Bad Fit in Anne Arundel

January 23, 1992

Anne Arundel School Superintendent Larry L. Lorton's decision to resign when his contract expires this summer was sudden but hardly surprising. In recent months, it has become increasingly clear that the superintendent and the Anne Arundel Board of Education disagreed on policy and budget issues.

Last month, Mr. Lorton publicly contradicted the board's position on employee furloughs at a community meeting. Stunned and angry, the board called a lengthy time out after which Mr. Lorton recanted his proposal. The rift widened further last week when the superintendent recommended that students be charged $20 for driver's education, but still be allowed to earn credit for the course -- a violation of state law.

Mr. Lorton is papering over differences. He claims to be unaware the board is unhappy with his performance and management style. He denies his resignation is a pre-emptive strike against a board inclined not to renew his contract. He purports to be leaving because the size of the 66,000-pupil system makes it hard to interact with students and teachers. Publicly, at least, the board has remained terse and tight-lipped.

The relationship between the board and Mr. Lorton appears strained beyond repair. It's hard to imagine worse timing. This year, as last, fiscal pressure dictates some sort of budget compromise between educators and county government. Internal feuding will slow the process. So will the business of looking for a new superintendent.

Under these circumstances, the board should quickly sever its ties with Mr. Lorton and find a replacement. Formulating a budget, analyzing competency test scores and focusing on the needs of a diverse school population require the full-time attention of a new school chief. Given the board's track record -- Mr. Lorton's predecessor and the board parted company on less than ideal terms, too -- the job of choosing a successor should not be limited to a committee of board members. Parents and teachers who will have to live with the next superintendent's policies should play a role in the process. So should County Executive Robert Neall, who holds the school purse strings, and the county council. Multiple viewpoints will undoubtedly complicate matters, but they are essential.

This is a tenuous moment in Arundel. But it is also an opportunity to forge a lasting partnership between those concerned about quality schools and the county's next education chief.

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