School board OKs Shilling's raise Controversial law firm retained

June 10, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Two controversial topics resurfaced yesterday when th school board unanimously voted to raise the superintendent's salary and keep the Baltimore law firm that has drawn criticism this year.

The board voted unanimously to raise Superintendent R. Edward Shilling's salary to $111,126 -- up from $104,626 -- in accordance with a four-year contract the board negotiated with him two years ago.

Board members Joseph D. Mish and C. Scott Stone said the contract was legally binding and must be honored.

Mr. Shilling's raises hinge on a satisfactory evaluation of his performance and on teachers' getting increment raises.

Carolyn Scott, the school board president, said Mr. Shilling "received very high marks, as did our school system."

Mr. Shilling's contract sparked controversy last year when two county commissioners and several citizens criticized the school board for agreeing to built-in raises over four years.

When the raise last year was announced, Cheryl A. McFalls, then board president, refused to release the rest of the superintendent's contract because, she said, the board's lawyer has said it is a personnel record, and private.

However, board attorney Edward Gutman -- after consulting with the state attorney general's office -- advised her later that month in a letter that the contract was public information and should be released.

But Mrs. McFalls said she chose to keep the letter from other board members because the next day Mr. Shilling volunteered to make his contract public anyway.

Yesterday, Taneytown resident Wayne Cogswell assailed board members for keeping silent on the actions of Mrs. McFalls, who lost her bid for re-election.

The revelation about Mr. Gutman's letter to Mrs. McFalls came out in January, after Mr. Cogswell pressed the lawyer and school board on the matter.

He also asked the board to reconsider retaining Mr. Gutman and his firm, Blum, Yumkas, Mailman, Gutman and Denick. He criticized Mr. Gutman for advising the board for years to keep the superintendent's contract private, which is contrary to state law.

Mrs. Scott told Mr. Cogswell that the board approved in December a policy that superintendent contracts would be public from that point on.

Board members did not question the law firm's integrity, however, and did not make any statement about Mrs. McFalls' decision not to make public Mr. Gutman's letter.

In their unanimous vote to retain Mr. Gutman's law firm for another year for $115,000, members praised the firm for having so many lawyers who specialize.

They said they could not get that expertise by hiring one lawyer.

However, Mr. Stone asked the administration to prepare some ** statistics to determine whether it would be better to hire one lawyer and use the firm for special cases.

"The firm we've retained in the past . . . has a depth of experience and expertise," he said. But he asked for more information so that the board can make a decision next year "based on fact and not feelings and emotions."

During the discussion, Mr. Mish and board member John D. Myers criticized Mr. Cogswell for "beating a dead horse" on the contract and legal advice.

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