Amprey awarded a $15,000 raise

June 30, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Gary Gately | JoAnna Daemmrich and Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writers

Amid a shake-up of Baltimore schools that resulted in hundreds of layoff notices and mounting criticism of Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, the mayor yesterday gave the schools chief his unqualified support -- and a $15,000 raise.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, praising the superintendent's leadership the 113,000-student school system, pushed the contract through in an attempt to keep Dr. Amprey at the helm for another four years.

The Baltimore Teachers Union, school advocacy groups and some city lawmakers promptly denounced the contract, which takes effect July 1 and raises Dr. Amprey's salary 12 percent -- from $125,000 to $140,000. Dr. Amprey already is the highest paid Baltimore City official.

Under the contract, dubbed a "sweetheart deal" by the union and a "golden parachute" by Council President Mary Pat Clarke, the superintendent would be paid for all four years even if he is dismissed during a change in administration.

Also, the superintendent's annual expense account will increasefrom $5,000 to $15,000, and he will be allowed to collect unlimited fees for speaking engagements.

"I think he has done outstanding work for the young people in this community and the Department of Education," Mayor Schmoke said.

Mr. Schmoke said his overriding concern was to ensure stability and "affirm our support for him while he's making the tough decisions he has to make to improve school performance." The mayor's term will end next year, and he faces a challenge from Mrs. Clarke.

Dr. Amprey, who has seen sentiment against him spill over from protests at the central administration to angry meetings at City Hall, said that he was pleased by the vote of confidence.

"I do think that it's somewhat unfortunate that this decision was made at a time when we're going through a major reorganization," he said. "But it is also important for me to feel like I can continue with this, continue the changes we're making.

"The city's rallying around education, and the good thing is, now the attention is on the schools. It means an awful lot to me to know I have the [school] board's support and the mayor's support."

But the superintendent's critics were quick to protest.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook from teachers who are just appalled at both the amount and the timing of this huge increase," said Irene Dandridge, president of the 8,500-member teachers union. She pointed out that the teachers received only a 4 percent raise this year.

In the past two months, Dr. Amprey has found himself the center of growing controversy over his venture into school privatization and his plans for widespread restructuring.

Only a week ago, he sent letters to 278 employees, including 49 teachers, informing them that their positions would soon be eliminated. Some can expect to be reassigned to other jobs before school starts in September; others will be placed on recall lists.

And amid recent community opposition, he abandoned plans to turn over troubled Patterson High to a Maine boarding school.

Mrs. Clarke, an outspoken opponent of school privatization, sharply criticized giving the superintendent a raise while hundreds of teachers, paraprofessionals and other school staff are waiting to find out whether they will keep their jobs.

The council president said she was astonished to find the contract yesterday morning among last-minute items before the city's Board of Estimates, the five-member panel that must approve all city expenditures.

Mrs. Clarke asked why the pay raise had been presented without warning and suggested again that the school board should be elected instead of appointed by the mayor.

She compared the superintendent's raise with rushed board agreements turning over the management of 12 schools to Education Alternatives Inc., a for-profit company based in Minneapolis.

"This is a golden parachute," she said, adding that the school board should have publicly voted on the raise instead of meeting in a closed session Tuesday. "The school board should either dissolve or take responsibility for itself."

City Solicitor Neal M. Janey said the responsibility for contracts with the superintendent and police chief rests with the Board of Estimates.

Mr. Janey and Public Works Director George Balog joined the mayor in approving the contract, while Mrs. Clarke and Acting Comptroller Shirley Williams voted against it. Ms. Williams questioned the urgency since the superintendent's existing contract would not expire until next June.

Phillip H. Farfel, president of the nine-member school board, reacted angrily to charges of behind-the-scenes maneuvering. The board had promised to extend Dr. Amprey's contract 10 months ago when the superintendent emerged as a finalist for New York City's top schools job, he said, and waited until the end of the fiscal year.

"We made that commitment based upon his outstanding performance, based upon the fact that he was being recognized nationally and based upon the fact that we didn't want to lose him," Dr. Farfel said.

Dr. Amprey's defenders also said the $140,000 salary is in line with superintendents' salaries in other major cities, including New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

The superintendent is the latest of Mr. Schmoke's cabinet members to receive a raise. The salaries of Mr. Janey and Mr. Balog were increased this spring from $75,000 to $108,600.

Dr. Amprey's supporters said the contract will guarantee stability during this time of change. "I would not agree that the timing is awkward. It is clear that constant turnover in superintendents does not lead to excellence in the schools," said Jerry Baum, director of the Fund for Educational Excellence, which works to increase student achievement.

Mayor Schmoke said through his spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, that he introduced the contract as a "walk-on" because the board does not meet next week and the contract takes effect July 1.

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