The search for Baltimore's next public schools chief ha narrowed to five contenders.
They are former heads of the nation's largest school system -- in Los Angeles -- and of the Cleveland school system, and second-tier administrators in Prince George's County, Baltimore County and the District of Columbia.
City school board members met privately for 3 1/2 hours Friday night to consider eight semifinalists culled from about 50 applicants.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was notified of the decision to reduce the list to five.
Board members will visit the candidates' school districts before proceeding further -- a step that was not taken in the search that brought outgoing school superintendent Richard C. Hunter to Baltimore three years ago.
The list may be further narrowed based on those visits and background checks, including criminal checks.
The finalists will visit Baltimore for interviews with the board and Mayor Schmoke as well as meetings with parents, religious and business leaders, community groups and school unions, said Douglas J. Neilson, a spokesman for the city school system.
The five remaining candidates are:
* Walter G. Amprey, an associate superintendent in Baltimore County.
* Leonard M. Britton, former superintendent of the Los Angeles public schools and now an education consultant there.
* Jerome Clark, associate superintendent in Prince George's County.
* Lillian Gonzalez, an assistant superintendent in the District of Columbia.
* Alfred D. Tutela, former superintendent of the Cleveland school system.
The group reflects the board's and the mayor's interest in finding a candidate with ties to the Baltimore region, a leaning that resulted in part from dissatisfaction with Dr. Hunter, a nationally touted urban education expert who had been the mayor's choice for superintendent.
Dr. Hunter's three-year contract expires July 31 and board members want a new superintendent in place Aug. 1. They had hoped to make a final choice by May 1, but the deadline has been pushed to mid-May.
Dr. Britton, the most prominent of the candidates for the city job, has a long track record with school-based management in Dade County, Fla. -- which includes the city of Miami -- and was one of the first districts in the country to put in place decentralized schools.
Dr. Britton left the Los Angeles system last year with a year left on his contract, after a bitter teacher strike. He said in a telephone interview yesterday that he is not currently a finalist in any other search.
Dr. Amprey and Dr. Clark are viewed as front runners at City Hall. Both are black educators, a significant factor for a city with a majority black student population that for at least a decade has been governed by black superintendents.
Both work in school systems that are viewed as successful. Baltimore County's is a suburban system while Prince George's struggles with urban problems spilling over from the District of Columbia and has a student population similar to Baltimore's.
Dr. Gonzalez, who is of Puerto Rican descent and came to Washington after years as a teacher and administrator in New York City schools, has particular experience with special education students. Baltimore is under a consent decree governing its special education students.
Dr. Tutela left Cleveland's system last year, just one year short of completing his five-year contract, after a tumultuous struggle with his school board. The superintendent sued board members in Nov. 1989 for prohibiting him from making political statements during the board election, and eventually settled out of court for legal fees.
He won an injunction in Dec. 1989 preventing his board from firing him, but several months later accepted a $330,000 buyout.
He was not the first superintendent at odds with the Cleveland board -- his predecessor committed suicide and left a note deploring "petty politics."
Baltimore board members conducted lengthy telephone interviews with the candidates and spent about two weeks checking references.
Friday night, they ruled out two Baltimore candidates -- Associate Superintendent Patsy Baker Blackshear and Assistant Superintendent Leonard D. Wheeler -- as well as Charles M. Bernardo, who was a superintendent of Montgomery County schools until 1979 and is now a businessman in Palm Coast, Fla.