Hunter's Parting Shot

August 01, 1991

Richard C. Hunter, in his last day as Baltimore's school superintendent, said yesterday that Mayor Schmoke "set me up as a scapegoat to take the blame for this administration's failure to live up to the mayor's campaign promises to the voters of Baltimore."

Jeff Ballard, in his last day as an Oriole pitcher before being demoted to minor-league Rochester, said, "They can't justify any reason why they're doing this. I feel like I'm being made one of the scapegoats."

Dr. Hunter is not responsible for all that's wrong with the city schools, any more than Jeff Ballard is responsible for all that's wrong with the Orioles. But both have little cause to whine. Neither can make a convincing case that he has been doing a good job.

The city may expect too much of its school superintendents. Given the depth of the problems and the scarcity of resources, no one can reasonably accomplish a "turnaround" in three years. One of the greatest gifts the city can give the new superintendent, Walter G. Amprey, who takes over today, is patience.

Mayor Schmoke's highly visible commitment to school improvement and to "the city that reads" adds another layer of complexity to attempts to deal here with the problems that afflict urban school systems. At times, there is ambiguity to the relative roles played by the mayor, by the school board he appoints and by the superintendent. Clarifying responsibility and authority should be one of the first orders of business as Dr. Amprey begins work.

All these mitigating factors are not enough to let Dr. Hunter off the hook (any more than Jeff Ballard can blame poor hitting or inconsistent relief pitching for his 8-22 record over the past two seasons). Dr. Hunter failed to articulate a clear direction for the city schools. He failed to build support among most key constituencies. He failed to convince parents that the schools were headed in the right direction.

Dr. Hunter deserved the equivalent of being sent to Rochester. Mayor Schmoke and the school board were correct not to renew his contract after his first three-year term.

There are those who say Dr. Hunter's well-intentioned efforts were thwarted by politics. Any school superintendent needs to realize that politics -- working with the mayor, the city council, the school board and key community constituencies -- is not an impediment to the job. It is, in fact, a crucial part of the job.

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