Hunter blasts Schmoke for lack of support

August 01, 1991|By Gelareh Asayesh

In his last day as Baltimore's school superintendent, Richard C. Hunter broke seven months of silence to lambaste Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, accusing the mayor of making him the scapegoat for a failed election pledge to remake city schools.

"Now, we can better understand why the mayor used the technique of publicly criticizing his superintendent of public instruction during the 1989-1990 school year," Dr. Hunter said in an emotional speech that at times left him choked up and apparently close to tears. "He was preparing for today. It is done. The educational sacrifice has been made. It is done."

The new superintendent, Walter G. Amprey, starts today. Dr. Hunter will return to his old job as a professor in the Department of Education at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

At a farewell meeting with the press at school system headquarters on North Avenue, Dr. Hunter bantered jovially with reporters, refused to take any questions, then read a 10-minute statement that painted him as a victim of a mayor who made campaign promises that could not realistically be fulfilled.

Dr. Hunter said he was "enticed" to Baltimore in 1988 by the mayor and then-school board president Meldon S. Hollis Jr., unaware that a majority of the school board had preferred another candidate. He and his family placed their confidence in Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Hollis, he said, implying that such confidence had been misplaced.

Though the schools made progress, lack of city and state funds made it difficult to fulfill the need for change in the school system, Dr. Hunter said.

Ultimately, he said, the mayor undermined Dr. Hunter publicly, damaging the superintendent's career, to deflect voters' wrath in the coming Sept. 12 Democratic primary.

Mr. Schmoke, reached after the former superintendent's speech, said Dr. Hunter's comments were "predictable."

"I think he's done far more to hurt his professional integrity than I ever did," Mr. Schmoke said.

"I just think it was sad that he had to go out in this fashion when, in fact, our problems were deep philosophical differences over the nature of reform in the school system and the pace of reform. . . . Obviously, we are seeing some of the facts of the last three years differently," the mayor said.

As for Dr. Hunter's suggestion that he was betrayed, Mr. Schmoke said: "Oh, come on. He's a grown man. He's been around before. He's been a superintendent of three different school systems. He's been a member of a school board down in North Carolina. He was not misled. He came here with his eyes open."

Dr. Hunter, a former superintendent of Richmond, Va., and Dayton, Ohio, schools, took over in 1988 with great fanfare. But within a year, he was at the center of a series of controversies that culminated in a bitter battle over the Barclay Elementary School's desire to adopt a private school curriculum.

The episode marked the beginning of a parting of ways between Dr. Hunter and Mr. Schmoke.

Mr. Schmoke became increasingly frustrated with what he and several community groups saw as an intransigent, unresponsive superintendent.

In December, the mayor announced that he had lost confidence in Dr. Hunter, and the school board agreed to let Dr. Hunter's three-year contract expire.

The mayor's statement on that occasion, Dr. Hunter said yesterday, was "an attempt to claim credit for the good that has come from the Schmoke-Hunter administration, while at the same time set me up as a scapegoat to take the blame for his administration's failure to live up to the mayor's campaign promises.

"The reality is . . . if Hunter failed, while conferring with the mayor on every major issue, including the much-talked about Barclay decision, then so did Mr. Schmoke."

Dr. Hunter thanked his "many silent supporters" -- an apparent reference to the lack of significant public outcry over his departure. He quoted those supporters to make his point about the mayor's growing role in school affairs -- a role that the mayor has said he will relinquish now that a new superintendent is on board.

"I can hear them now, as they said to me, 'Hang in there, Doc!' " Dr. Hunter said. "They said it when they questioned the wisdom of the mayor for speaking out against me in public, for taking the television cameras into the textbook warehouse and for meeting with the school principals.

"They would say to me, 'What is he doing? Doesn't he know that he is making a difficult job more difficult? How can he expect you to do your job if he undermines you in this way?' And I did, I hung in there."

Dr. Hunter made only one reference to his successor. "I hope that the community will provide and insist on greater support for Dr. Amprey," Dr. Hunter said. "He will need it."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.