Hunter: I took the fall

August 01, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

On his last day as Baltimore school chief, the normally reserved Richard C. Hunter finally bared his soul.

"I am terribly disappointed and personally hurt -- and professionally hurt -- as a result of this experience," Hunter said in an interview yesterday. "I will suffer from it for many years."

Seven months ago, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke decided to drop Hunter as superintendent, telling the school board not to offer him a new contract when his three-year term expired.

As he prepared to return to a teaching position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hunter struck back.

In a harsh, prepared statement, Hunter accused Schmoke of making him the fall guy for failures of the school system.

He amplified on those remarks in the interview, saying the mayor had made unrealistic promises for school reform, and then dumped Hunter to protect his political hide.

"I was, as I said, a political, educational scapegoat," Hunter said. "The expectations were up here -- I didn't set those expectations, somebody else set those expectations."

That "individual," he said in a pointed reference to Schmoke, "is concerned about survival, political survival."

Hunter had this advice for those who would take on the job of urban school superintendent:

"Be a little more cautious and a little less trusting of some of the individuals with whom you work. Because they may betray you."

Schmoke had little response to Hunter's broadside, saying dTC through a spokesman that he wants to be "looking to the future, not to the past."

And Meldon S. Hollis Jr., the school board member and former president also singled out for criticism by Hunter, said the departing school chief knew -- or should have known -- the stakes when he took the job.

"He left the two previous urban school systems under a cloud," said Hollis, referring to Hunter's tenure in Richmond and Dayton. "So I can't believe this is a person who didn't understand the risks in that position."

But Hunter, who smoldered in silence for six months after Schmoke decided to drop him, said the mayor and Hollis must share the blame for policy failures during Hunter's term.

"What some might characterize as major policy errors grew out of advice that I received from the individuals that I mentioned . . . who had a greater understanding of the community than I did," he said.

Hunter said, for example, that the mayor and Hollis had advised him to go ahead with his controversial decision to bar Barclay Elementary-Middle School from using an innovative private school curriculum.

The Barclay decision ignited massive community opposition and proved the beginning of the end for Hunter.

"I think I was a little too trusting of those two individuals," said Hunter. "And certainly I would say that was a big mistake."

(Hollis disputed that version of the events, saying he went along with Hunter's decision as a gesture of support to a new superintendent.)

Hunter had especially harsh words for Schmoke, whom he accused of misleading him and undercutting his authority.

"It made it much more difficult for me to run the school district," he said. "The respect level of some of the members of my staff, individuals in the community, was seriously hurt by the mayor's activities . . . And I think he had to know that."

Hunter leaves office claiming some credit for modest improvements in the city school system.

He cited cuts in the school department's bureaucracy, revision of the school curriculum, improved school safety, reduced suspension and expulsion rate and a balanced school budget.

But he also scored Schmoke's leadership on the issue of education, which the mayor has claimed as his top policy priority.

Walter G. Amprey, who succeeds Hunter today, "is the third superintendent that Kurt Schmoke has had in four years," noted Hunter. "That's incredible. How can you make progress . . . when the way in which you do that is to replace the person who is in charge?"

And Hunter reacted angrily to the suggestion that a lack of political skills might have compounded his problems in Baltimore's politically charged school system.

"I can certainly say I am not a politician, nor do I have any interest in becoming a politician," said Hunter. "I value my own integrity. And I am not about to get caught in positions where I have to sacrifice individuals in order to advance my own political career. That is abhorrent to me as an individual."

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