City school board flounders in search for superintendent

May 03, 1991|By Gelareh Asayesh

The Baltimore school board -- which last week had a short list of five candidates and a deadline in its search for a new superintendent -- now has no deadline, no set list of candidates, and lots of unanswered questions.

Board members confirmed last night that they are extending their search and expect to expand it in keeping with the wishes of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. But they said that conversations with the mayor have so far left them short on specifics.

Meanwhile, the five candidates selected by the board were wondering whether the city is serious about considering them for superintendent. At least one, Jerome Clark, an associate superintendent from Prince George's County, said he is having second thoughts -- though board members are going ahead with planned interviews.

Mr. Schmoke said Wednesday that he wanted the board to take as long as necessary to choose a replacement for Superintendent Richard C. Hunter, whose contract expires July 31, and that members should not confine themselves to the short list.

The mayor spoke Wednesday with board President Joseph Lee Smith and member Doris M. Johnson, who heads the search. But Smith and Mrs. Johnson said the mayor had mentioned neither names of potential candidates nor specifics on the time frame. Nor did the mayor make specific reference to broadening the list, they said -- though he has said as much in interviews.

"He simply said we should not rush," Mr. Smith said after last night's board meeting.

In an interview with The Sun Wednesday, Mr. Schmoke said he wanted the board to consider new names that have surfaced since the search began and "keep an open mind" about the original pool.

Just Tuesday, the board had pushed back its initial deadline of May 1 to May 27.

"May 27 is no more," Mr. Smith said. "I have five people on a short list that I'm getting information on. And I'm getting information on others when I get some names." Mr. Smith said the board will meet at some unspecified date to set a new deadline.

The mayor's decision, reached after weeks of conversations with unions, parents and community groups who urged him to take time with the search, took board members off guard. Asked if she was frustrated with the process, Mrs. Johnson responded: "Wouldn't you be?"

Last week, a group of Baltimore state legislators, council members and citizens asked Mr. Schmoke to reopen the search. The group's letter described the five as lacking experience and leadership. But Sheila Kolman, president of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association, said the list includes "some viable candidates."

Board members have said all along that they might conclude their investigation of applicants without finding anyone suitable. But they didn't expect such decisions before they had finished interviewing.

"We got pre-empted somewhat by all these people who got excited by this process," Mr. Smith said.

Three of the five candidates said they were unfazed by developments while a fourth said he is still interested -- but only if the city is.

Lillian Gonzalez, an assistant superintendent in the District of Columbia, Walter G. Amprey, a Baltimore County associate superintendent, and Leonard M. Britton, who formerly headed the Los Angeles system, said they plan to stay in the running for the job, which pays $125,000 a year.

But Dr. Clark, associate superintendent for personnel in Prince George's County, said he was reconsidering his application. "We'll have to see," Dr. Clark said. "I'll give them a fair shot if they'll give me a fair shot."

A fifth candidate, former Cleveland Superintendent Alfred Tutela, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Meanwhile, three board members are due to spend today in Baltimore County for lunch with Dr. Amprey and meetings with his colleagues. And Dr. Britton is flying to Baltimore tonight at the city's expense to spend tomorrow with board members.

Board members visited the District of Columbia last Friday to meet with Dr. Gonzalez and union and community leaders.

At least two of the candidates said the shift in the search is par for the course.

"If this didn't come up, I'm sure something else would," said Dr. Britton.

"It does give me pause," said Dr. Amprey, who used to work in city schools and grew up in Baltimore. But he said, It's typical of what the job would be like. Every group wants to be involved.

"It's Baltimore," he added. "And I understand Baltimore."

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