Superintendent's career marked by controversy

April 14, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

R. Edward Shilling is known for a bold style, and his time as superintendent has been fraught with controversy.

The past two years have brought one controversy after another, but the superintendent said he never had a year that didn't.

He said recent years have not been more difficult than the first -- the controversies just change.

"I think the [superintendent's position] is stressful and controversial most of the time," Mr. Shilling said.

Among the controversies he has faced:

* He has decried a national conservative movement that he said has a political agenda and steadfastly supported that movement's main target: outcomes-based education. Under that approach, goals are set for what students should know after each course and at the end of their schooling. Opponents claim it focuses too much on values.

* In June 1992, he made an unusual decision to recommend against the Carroll Board of Education adopting a particular videotape on AIDS, even though he said he saw nothing wrong with the tape itself.

Because several parents threatened to take their children out of the whole family life class if the tape were approved, he decided one tape wasn't worth the cost, he said at the time.

* Also in June 1992, publicity and public reaction about his roughly $100,000 annual salary and contract appeared to bother him. But the controversy brought out some parents who were earnest supporters to publicly laud him and say he was worth the money.

Much of the outcry from staff was that the school board allowed him to have generous increases built into his contract when the staff was getting only step increases.

But the school board also took heat over how it handled the contract, by not releasing all the details until the public pressed.

then, Mr. Shilling had volunteered to provide the public with the contract to defuse the controversy, he said.

Simultaneously, it appeared, the school board's attorney reversed his opinion that the contract was a private personnel document.

At one board meeting, a man who was friendly with Mr. Shilling said he thought Mr. Shilling was a good superintendent, but, because of the contract he negotiated, also a good salesman.

The superintendent smiled at the man, and asked if that was a compliment.

Mr. Shilling has spent all but a brief part of his working life in education. Early in his career, after his first four years of teaching English, he worked for a year as an assistant personnel manager at Random House.

"I didn't get the job satisfaction out of what I was doing in the private sector," he said yesterday. "And Random House is a terrific company to work for. I took a significant pay cut to come back as an assistant principal.

"I never doubted that [public education] was what I wanted to do for the rest of my career," he said.

After he retires in July, Mr. Shilling said he wants to spend more time with his four grandchildren, three of whom were born last summer.

And "I've got some ideas about some things I might do on a consulting basis," he said.

Regarding the timing of his departure, he said he had intended to retire next January, but decided it would be disruptive to leave the post vacant in midyear.

". . . my health is excellent, so it's not related to my health," he said.

He said he wanted to announce his resignation in time for the current school board to appoint a successor.

"I know these five board members," he said. "They will focus on [choosing a superintendent] who will serve the interest of Carroll County students."

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