Hands-off approach to superintendent search Mayor said to avoid tainting hiring of city school chief.

April 22, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

With the list of candidates for city school superintendent narrowed to five, aides to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke insist he is taking a hands-off approach as a search committee goes about filling the most politically sensitive slot in his administration.

School board members could make further cuts in the list of five top candidates that was announced over the weekend.

The mayor yesterday refused comment on his role in the selection process, as the search committee moves toward a May 15 target date for announcing the final selection.

And board members said Schmoke was not directly involved in the selection of the five candidates picked at a closed, 3 1/2 -hour board meeting Friday night.

"Ultimately, he may have a great deal to say about it, but he wants the process to go on as much as possible with the board, and with him staying out of it," said Clinton R. Coleman, the

mayor's chief spokesman. "He's gone out of his way not to taint the process."

The five candidates on the list announced Saturday are:

* Walter G. Amprey, associate superintendent with the division of staff and community relations in Baltimore County.

* Leonard M. Britton, former superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

* Jerome Clark, associate superintendent for personnel in Prince George's County.

* Lillian Gonzalez, an assistant superintendent in Washington, D.C.

* Alfred D. Tutela, former superintendent in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sources said it was Schmoke who gave the committee Amprey's name.

Under the city charter, the school board appoints the superintendent, but the mayor appoints all members of the board, and it is responsive to his wishes.

It was Schmoke who hand-picked the current superintendent, Richard C. Hunter. It was Schmoke who decided to jettison him when the superintendent's term expires July 31, after declaring he had lost confidence in Hunter.

And Schmoke has since said that he would refer the names of potential candidates to the selection committee, without recommending a front-runner.

Several board members denied that the mayor has taken a more active part in the selection process.

Stelios Spiliadis, vice president of the board, said the mayor was kept informed about the selection committee's work, but "was very clear in leaving the process totally under the board's discretion."

Asked whether Schmoke had any role in choosing the five candidates announced on Saturday, he said, "none whatsoever."

Spiliadis insisted that the decision on a finalist is "going to be the board's. The mayor's office has not told me, or I think any other board member, anything contrary. The board is given the responsibility to make a decision on the next superintendent."

And Doris M. Johnson, a board member and co-chair of the selection committee, also said the mayor had no part in choosing the five candidates on the short list.

None of those candidates are yet considered "finalists," according to Robert G. Wendland, deputy personnel director for the city Civil Service Commission and co-chair of the search committee.

Board members are to continue investigating them, and plan to make visits to their home districts as part of the background checks.

"There are people on this list who could be ruled out" on the basis of further investigation, said Wendland. "If that's the case, there are people on the fringes who could be included."

By the first few weeks of May, the selection committee hopes have a list of true "finalists," any one of whom the city would be willing to hire, said Wendland.

Those finalists then would be brought to Baltimore for in-person interviews with the mayor, representatives from community and religious groups, school unions, parents organizations and other interested groups.

Wendland said those visits could take place the week of May 6 or May 13, depending on how quickly they can be arranged.

Meanwhile, the search committee's short list drew a mixed reaction from some school system observers, who noted that all of the candidates are from out of town.

"Nobody who's on that list is currently working for the system, and I'm really concerned about that," said Anthony V. Stewart, president of the Baltimore City Council of PTAs.

Stewart warned that a newcomer would require time to get acquainted with the Baltimore system. He recalled that when the Hunter first arrived in Baltimore from North Carolina in 1988, "he got hit in the face by a number of things that were going on."

And City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said that it would "be a real challenge" for an outsider to keep the momentum going on the process of giving individual schools greater autonomy.

That process, the movement toward school-based management, is among the mayor's and the board's top priorities.

"I'm disappointed that no one who knows the local scene is in the running for local superintendent," Clarke said. "What we really need now is someone who knows the communities . . . and can make the program work."

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