Micro-managing the School System

November 29, 1993

The Howard County Board of Education did the right thing by voting to condemn a recent proposal by state Sen. Christopher McCabe to limit the county superintendent's powers to transfer school personnel. Senator McCabe's bill is deserving of rejection, and we hope the senator abandons this attempt at legislative meddling.

His proposal was prompted by Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's decision last May to transfer principals and assistant principals at Centennial and Mount Hebron high schools. The administrative changes caused an uproar among Mount Hebron parents, who subsequently filed an appeal with the state Department of Education.

The McCabe bill is certainly a crowd-pleaser. It would require the superintendent to give 60 days' notice to a school's PTA before transferring more than half of that school's administrative or counseling staff. Parents would be privy to the reasons for the transfers and could even request a public hearing on the matter.

Prior notice, Senator McCabe said, "shows some respect to the parents and the school community." Central to the bill's shortcomings, however, is that it shows no respect for the prerogative of the superintendent or the privacy of personnel.

Not only is Dr. Hickey justifiably irked over the senator's attempts to micro-manage the system, any school district that would so tie the hands of its chief executive officer will get what it deserves when the time comes to find a new head administrator. The best-qualified candidates will shun such a system. Moreover, we can almost hear lawyers licking their chops at the prospect that some hapless administrator will find himself in a litigious mood after having his personnel record publicly aired.

Having said all that, the sentiment behind Senator McCabe's bill is understandable. Transferring a school's entire administrative staff within the same year would certainly be unsettling and disturbing to the school's community. Dr. Hickey has promised a task force to look into the issue in general, although it should take little study to conclude that mass transfers aren't wise. No one, however, should expect the system to adopt broad and restrictive notification procedures. Successful schools must be responsible to the public and serve the public, but they can't be micro-managed by the public.

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