Letting superintendents supervise

June 02, 1994

The Anne Arundel County school system has been criticized for operating in the dark on key issues, for not explaining its decisions, for acting as though it couldn't care less what parents think or feel. Such criticism has been deserved most of the time. But county Superintendent Carol S. Parham's plan to transfer more than 60 administrators to different jobs -- a decision that upset some parents who feel they should have had a say -- is one case where complaints are unjustified.

Perhaps Dr. Parham would have been wise to have prepared parents by sending out advance signals that she was considering a major personnel shift. But there is no question about her authority to move employees. State law clearly dictates that superintendents have the right and freedom to order transfers as they deem necessary for the good of the system. Only if evidence exists to show the transfer was prompted by unsavory motives -- say, to exact retribution -- should the superintendent's decision be questioned.

In this instance, there is little to suggest that is the case. The County Council of PTAs says the large number of transfers is designed to hide disciplinary action against certain principals, but that is mere supposition. The more sensible explanation is the one Dr. Parham offered -- that she believes change is healthy, especially in a system that historically has maintained the status quo with unfavorable consequences. Not coincidentally, the two lawyers who investigated a teacher-student sex scandal in the county schools last year came to the same conclusion.

Naturally transfers are upsetting to parents. An educator's relationship with a given school and community can become powerful and emotional.

Shuffling administrators was one of the issues that got Baltimore County Superintendent Stuart Berger in hot water with some factions after his arrival there two years ago. And in Howard County, a recent uproar over school transfers got totally out of hand when one state lawmaker sponsored a bill (which eventually was withdrawn) restricting the superintendent's power to transfer, making certain transfers subject to a public hearing and giving parents access to private personnel information.

Parents should expect the school system to serve them responsibly. They cannot expect to run the system. Teachers and principals are not assigned to a certain school for life, and school assignments are not subject to popular election. The law says superintendents make those decisions.

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