Amprey is sending out resumes as city negotiates his contract

January 28, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff Writer

Five months after saying he withdrew from the running for New York City's top schools post because of his commitment to Baltimore, Superintendent Walter G. Amprey is seeking superintendent jobs in Philadelphia and Fort Worth, Texas.

Dr. Amprey confirmed yesterday that he had sent resumes in the past several weeks to personnel firms conducting the searches for the two cities, each of which hopes to hire a school chief by spring to take office before next school year.

The news -- which took lawmakers, civic leaders and educators by surprise -- surfaced as Dr. Amprey, in his third year as superintendent, is negotiating a new contract with the city.

Dr. Amprey, 49, is paid $125,000 a year and, according to city sources, is in the final stages of negotiating a contract with the city that would raise his annual salary to about $150,000.

Some critics called his bids thinly veiled attempts to gain leverage for a more lucrative contract. Others said his actions heightened the sense of urgency to sign a contract that has been in negotiations since early September.

But Dr. Amprey said his decision to apply had nothing to do with the contract negotiations.

Rather, he said, he sent the resumes to explore possibilities after being contacted by search firms and school officials for the two cities.

As he did while pursuing the New York chancellorship, for which he became one of four finalists, Dr. Amprey expressed ambivalence about the prospect of leaving Baltimore.

Yesterday, he played down the likelihood that he would take either job if offered, adding: "I just don't want to get people shaken up. My heart's here in Baltimore.

"If I had to give an answer now, it would be 'no.' It's hard to say that, though, when people keep calling. All of that is really flattering and makes you feel really good.

"If an opportunity presents itself, you've got to think it through. I think I owe it to myself to think it through rather than just saying, 'I'm going to close my eyes to any overtures from anyone.' "

Dr. Amprey did say he found the prospect of working in Philadelphia, where he earned a doctorate in education at Temple University, appealing in part because he still has friends and acquaintances there.

Questioning commitment

Some educators, lawmakers and civic leaders said the superintendent's bids led them to question his commitment to finishing what he started in the 110,000-student city system.

Said Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the state school board and a former city school board president: "Is he going to be here tomorrow and therefore continue doing what he's doing and advocating? How do we know whether he's going to be here to do the job?"

During Dr. Amprey's tenure, Mr. Embry noted, the school system has launched several highly visible reforms, including turning over the operation of nine schools to a private firm, bringing in the Sylvan Learning Center to provide tutoring, and giving much more decision-making authority and budget control to individual schools.

Mr. Embry, like others, praised Dr. Amprey's work and said he hopes the city retains him. "I hope nothing comes of this, because it would be a great loss to the city if he left," Mr. Embry said.

Phillip H. Farfel, school board president, expressed similar sentiments but added that he is confident Dr. Amprey will stay at the helm at North Avenue headquarters.

That other cities have sought Dr. Amprey provides testament to his reputation and his abilities, Dr. Farfel suggested.

"It's an indication that what he's doing here and what the school system is doing are being recognized nationally," Dr. Farfel said.

Dr. Farfel said the fact that contract negotiations have dragged on since September is no cause for alarm. "Sometimes, these things take a long time. Look how long it took with Cal Ripken."

Call for continuity

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's press secretary, Clinton R. Coleman, said the mayor had spoken with Dr. Amprey about his plans a week ago and is "under the impression that the superintendent is interested in staying here."

Mr. Schmoke, in a written statement, praised Dr. Amprey's leadership. But Mr. Coleman said he was unsure whether the mayor knew the superintendent had applied for the slots in Philadelphia and Fort Worth.

Mary Pat Clarke, the City Council president, also praised Dr. Amprey's leadership and said she hopes he remains here, though she has been a consistently vocal critic of the superintendent's most visible reform effort, the "Tesseract" school privatization program.

"I think he made a commitment that only he can honor," she said. "People need to complete the work they've started, up and down city government."

Others suggested hopes for a better contract prompted the superintendent to send the resumes.

"It's probably a good move if he wants the city to pay him more . . . to use whatever bargaining chips he has," said Irene Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union. "What else could it be? Five months ago, he said he was committed to staying here.

"I don't think he'll endear himself to the public when he's saying he's commited to Baltimore but then applying to other schools."

Despite her criticism, however, Ms. Dandridge said she hopes Dr. Amprey remains. "For continuity's sake, I would like to see us not change superintendents every three years."

In Philadelphia, an acting superintendent, Theresa Lemme, has led the district since former Superintendent Constance E. Clayton retired in August.

Ms. Clayton had received a $127,500 annual salary at the time of her retirement from the helm of the district, which has about 200,000 students.

A New York search firm, Lamalie Amrop International, is expected to send names of candidates to the city's school board this week. In Fort Worth, the school board is seeking a replacement for Don R. Roberts, who announced he will retire in June after leading the 72,000-student system for seven years. Mr. Roberts receives a $121,000 annual salary.

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