Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has told Baltimore school board members to prolong their search for a new superintendent and open it up to new candidates, even as board members were moving forward with plans to select a new superintendent by the end of this month.
Mr. Schmoke said yesterday that he wants to make sure the board conducts the most thorough search possible in the quest for a replacement for Superintendent Richard C. Hunter. Dr. Hunter's contract expires July 31. The board decided not to renew his contract in December, after the mayor announced he had lost confidence in Dr. Hunter.
The mayor's decision came after weeks of conversations with business, school union and parent groups that said the city should take its time in the search for a new superintendent. Last Wednesday, a group of Baltimore state legislators, City Council members and citizens hand-delivered to Mr. Schmoke a letter expressing their disappointment with the short list of five selected by the board April 19.
The mayor's decision to expand the search and extend the deadline caught board members off guard. Just Tuesday evening, they had agreed on a new deadline of May 27 for a final decision.
"This was not a topic of discussion last night [Tuesday]," said board President Joseph Lee Smith. "This dimension of the matter only surfaced today."
The letter from the 13 politicians and community leaders said the five, selected from a pool of 17 applicants after telephone interviews, weren't good enough. It urged the mayor to "reopen" the search, if necessary buying time by appointing an interim superintendent.
"Their comments are not really out of line with what I've said," Mr. Schmoke said, referring to the letter's message about taking time with the search. "What I've said to the board over and over is, don't feel constrained by any arbitrary time limits. Choose who we need or what we want for this school system, not just the best of what applies.
"I personally have received information about people on the list and new people -- I'm sure the board has," said Mr. Schmoke, who did not disclose names. "It may be that the person selected will come from this five, but I'm not saying there's a guarantee of that. If they happen to pick someone by the end of May, that's fine. But if they don't, they ought to take their time."
Though Mr. Smith had said all along that the board might revisit its original pool of applicants or consider new names -- particularly if it was disappointed with the results of its examination of the five candidates -- board members had been trying to narrow the field as quickly as possible.
Mr. Schmoke was closely involved as they did so. He contributed names to the list and was consulted as board members narrowed the pool. The five names were released after board members discussed their decision with Mr. Schmoke.
But the mayor said yesterday that as the process evolved, his perspective changed.
"At the beginning of the process we thought it would be short because of the preference for people in the region," Mr. Schmoke said. "The more we got into it -- the more the board got into it -- the more it was clear that this position was so important that we ought to take our time and be as thorough as possible."
In the past three weeks, Mr. Schmoke has received visits and calls from the Baltimore Teachers Union, the Baltimore Urban League, the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Council of PTAs and the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association.
While most conversations did not mention individuals, last Wednesday's letter said the five candidates on the school board's short list had "insufficient management experience and educational leadership."
The letter was signed by 13 people, including six state legislators and four council members: state Delegates Howard P. Rawlings, Anne S. Perkins, James W. Campbell, Salima S. Marriott, Kenneth Montague Jr. and Samuel I. Rosenberg, and council members Vera P. Hall, D-5th, Iris G. Reeves, D-5th, Sheila Dixon, D-4th, and Rochelle Spector, D-5th.
"I was concerned about the limits of the pool," said Ms. Hall, "because it did not have many top level administrators. I was concerned that in my opinion some of the people who were
set forward did not have any better credentials than some of the people who were set aside, who were local."
Board members eliminated two Baltimore administrators in their last cut: associate superintendent Patsy B. Blackshear and assistant superintendent Leonard D. Wheeler. The board had also ruled out two black superintendents with controversial histories: Laval S. Wilson, former head of Boston schools, and Norward Roussell, former head of the Selma, Ala., schools.
The board's short list includes two white superintendents who also left their school systems in the midst of controversy: Leonard M. Britton, former head of Los Angeles schools, and Alfred Tutela, former head of Cleveland schools.
It also includes three administrators in jobs two steps below superintendent: Jerome Clark, a Prince George's County associate superintendent; Walter G. Amprey, a Baltimore County associate superintendent, and Lillian Gonzalez, an assistant superintendent in the District of Columbia schools. Board members made those choices based on hourlong telephone interviews and reference checks.
The letter questions the "thoroughness and effectiveness" of the screening process that led to the selection of the five.
But Mr. Schmoke said that that view is predicated on the premise that "there is a right way and that we failed to follow that right way. . . . There's really no one right way of doing this, but it's clear you can't just make your judgment solely on the person's paper credentials."