Don't Tie the Superintendent's Hands

February 09, 1994

The coming week should tell whether state Sen. Christopher McCabe carries out his threat of legislation that would limit the Howard County school superintendent's power to transfer personnel. We hope that doesn't happen, having previously opposed this legislative attempt to micro-manage the workings of the school system.

Senator McCabe himself suggests the bill won't be needed if school officials, particularly Superintendent Michael Hickey, accept some changes in the transfer process. The senator, who has called the bill a "stick" to whip the system into self-reform, is to meet with Dr. Hickey today and again next week in an effort to craft a compromise that would render the bill moot.

The McCabe measure is a response to the protests of Mount Hebron High School parents who were outraged last June by Dr. Hickey's transferring of the school's principal and assistant principals to Centennial High. That's why Senator McCabe refers to his crowd-pleasing proposal as "a bill for parents, not for administrators."

Certainly the wishes of parents must be respected in any school system. Still, we see more harm than good resulting from a proposal that would tie the superintendent's hands the way this bill would. For one thing, the bill's promise of prior notice and open hearings over certain transfers could leave the system vulnerable to lawsuits by administrators upset at having their personnel files aired in public. A more likely, and more upsetting, upshot: No worthy prospect for the superintendent's job would want a post that carries such restrictions on transfer powers. Also, if this bill were passed, it would be the first of its kind among the state's 24 jurisdictions. While it would apply only to Howard County, it would nonetheless set an unwise precedent.

Dr. Hickey named a task force, which included aggrieved parents and transferred school employees, to find solutions. To us, the proper approach would include a recognition by school officials that wholesale transfers can be unduly disruptive. At the same time, the superintendent should not be expected to jump through hoops before he can handle the routine business of making administrative changes. Every school system would do well to be more sensitive to the public, but that doesn't mean the public and politicians should dictate the details of how the schools are managed.

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