Are Long-term Superintendents A Thing Of The Past?

April 07, 1992|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff writer

School board President Jo Ann Tollenger believes the days when superintendents stayed in one place for decades are over -- which might explain why neither Larry Lorton nor his predecessor, Robert C. Rice, lasted beyond one four-year term.

But others wonder if the board itself should be faulted for plucking its last two superintendents fromschool systems much smaller than Arundel's.

Both Lorton and Rice resigned as they approached the end of theirfour-year terms. It has been rumored that both men resigned before board members had a chance to vote against renewing their contracts.

Officially, Lorton and Rice both said they left their positions to pursue other career alternatives, and the school board has denied forcing either to resign.

However, the rocky relationship between each superintendent and the school board was evident to school system insiders.

As the July 1 deadline to fill the job approaches, the board must find a superintendent willing to take the position in a school system that has not kept its past two superintendents for more thanfour years.

In addition, the schools must find a superintendent willing to lead a system faced with tight fiscal constraints, reduced instructional services and possible teacher layoffs.

During a public hearing last week to find out what characteristics the new superintendent should have, many of those testifying referred to what one former teacher labeled the "mutual disenchantment" that has grown between the board and its past two superintendents.

Some parents, teachers, and school officials believe the rift can be traced to the board's decision to hire two superintendents who lacked experience in running a large school system.

"The primary problem has been that the last two superintendents have come in from systems significantly smaller," said Thomas J. Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County (TAAAC). "This is the 45th-largest system in the country. I think (Rice and Lorton) came in and felt overwhelmed.

"The problem with hiring from outside the system is (the new superintendent) doesn't understand the problems, doesn't understand the ramifications of the system," Paolino added.

"When Dr. Rice presented his first budget here, there was a $10 million increase. That's nothing for a school system of this kind. But that was more than his entire Louisiana budget."

Former board member Pat Huecker, however, said she does not believe the problems between the board and its past two superintendents resulted from their inexperience with large systems.

"I don't think there is one reason (for the problems)," Huecker said.

"There's been no evidence to show that superintendents coming from small school systems have difficulty adjusting to larger school systems, just as there's been no evidence to show superintendents coming from large school systems going to smaller school systems have an easier time of adjusting. As many reasons as there are people could be the cause" for the problems, Huecker added.

At a recent public hearing, several people insisted that it was time to hire a superintendent who will last longer than four years.

But Tollenger, the board president, said the long tenures of previous superintendents, such as Edward J. Anderson, who served from 1968 to 1984, are a thing of the past.

"I think (the change in superintendents) is a reflection of the times," Tollenger said. "I think the days of anyone being here, being anywhere, 16 years, unless they're exceptional, is unlikely."

Said Huecker: "I think the average tenure of a superintendent nationwide is somewhere in the area of three years. I think it's an aberration not to move every few years.

"Still," she said, "it is rather desirable to have a long-term superintendent. But I don't thinka short-term superintendent hurts the school system. If that were the case, 90 percent of the school systems across the country would fall apart."

Last year, a study conducted by the national magazine Education Week concluded that the average tenure of a school superintendent is about 2 1/2 years, said Ronald Peiffer, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Dee Zepp, president of the Secretariesand Assistants Association of Anne Arundel County, said the bickerings and disagreements between the board and its past two superintendents have hurt both the school system and its students. The school system, Zepp said, cannot afford the time to train a superintendent new to the system.

"I urge you to give a lot of consideration to putting someone in who will move Anne Arundel County schools forward," she told the board.

Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park, has kept an eye on the workings of the school system for a number of years. Jimeno said he does not believe the school board's recent record with its superintendents will make it any easier to find a replacement.

"I don't think it helps that the contracts of the past two superintendents have not been renewed," Jimeno said. "But the board has a responsibility to the citizens of Anne Arundel County. If a superintendent is not going in the direction the board feels is best for the school system, then (the board) has a responsibility to change that superintendent.

"Still, we can't ignore the job Dr. Lorton did for us. Without Dr. Lorton, we would not have a North County High," Jimeno added.

Parents and administrators agree that the board should select someone who can get along with politicians, teachers and the board.

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