School officials assail bill to curb superintendent's power over transfers Measure would tie his hands, they say

November 16, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

A bill to curb the Howard County school superintendent's power to transfer principals and vice principals has raised the ire of local school officials, who say the state senator who introduced it is stepping on their turf.

Republican Sen. Christopher J. McCabe's bill would bar the superintendent from transferring a school's entire administrative staff and would require a series of steps before more than half of an administrative staff could be transferred.

His bill is a response to Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's unprecedented transfer in May of the principals and assistant principals of Centennial and Mount Hebron high schools.

Angry Mount Hebron High parents have filed an appeal with the state Department of Education.

"I was distressed and disturbed at the manner in which the movements were made," said Mr. McCabe, who represents parts of Montgomery and Howard counties and has met with some of the upset parents.

He said his bill would strengthen the administrative transfer procedure by providing for timely notice to employees and to the school community, and by letting community members voice their concerns to the school board.

"Clearly, the way [administrative transfers were] announced to the community last school year caused a lot of dissension and mistrust of the motive of the people at the school board and the superintendent," he said. "It has driven a wedge between school administrators and parents.

"If we have a better procedure to handle these sensitive decisions, then perhaps we can bridge this gulf that has been created."

Board members say the legislation is unnecessary. They say Dr. Hickey is setting up a task force to look into transfer procedures and that the Mount Hebron and Centennial transfers were isolated incidents.

Those transfers were "very out of the ordinary, simply because Dr. Hickey has never done it before, and chances are it'll never happen again," said board member Susan Cook. "By enacting legislation to prohibit such moves, it would basically tie Dr. Hickey's hand in doing any type of transfer."

Last week, Dr. Hickey said Mr. McCabe was "overreacting. I'm very disappointed a legislator feels he should get involved in micro-managing a school decision. There are a lot of factors that go into this that don't lend themselves to a hearing."

Mr. McCabe denies he is trying to micro-manage the school system.

"My ultimate goal is to help provide a better process in which difficult personnel decisions are handled so the school community is not alienated," he said.

His bill would require that before a superintendent transferred more than 50 percent of an administrative or counseling staff, the superintendent must give 60 days' notice to the school's PTA, which could then request a public hearing.

The notice from the superintendent would have to detail the names and positions of employees, their length of service in the school system and the justification for their transfers, along with other information. It also would be required to provide confirmation that each employee had been advised in writing and in person of the transfer and the reason for it.

The notice requirement "shows some respect to the parents and the school community," Mr. McCabe said. "After all, everything I have been reading about reform in education is to find ways to involve the parents in the schools."

The bill also would require the superintendent to give written notice to the school board, which under law has no power over administrative transfers. Currently, the school board gets notice of transfers after the fact.

Mr. McCabe said he and parents are looking for more detail than Dr. Hickey gave for last school year's transfers.

He also said legislators have a responsibility to step in when a local action, such as those administrative transfers, erodes community support for the schools.

School officials noted that even if the school board holds a public hearing, as proposed, it would still have no authority to do anything about administrative transfers.

The Howard County Education Association, which represents teachers, is looking at the bill to determine whether it can be amended to include teachers and support personnel, said James R. Swab, the union president.

A public hearing on the bill has been scheduled for Dec. 1 at the George Banneker Room in the county government building in Ellicott City.

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