A campaign aide to Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden called several county high schools this week and asked officials to read an announcement soliciting student volunteers to work for the Hayden campaign.
School officials called the move highly inappropriate, and a top campaign aide to Mr. Hayden's Democratic challenger, Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, said it was the "act of a desperate candidate."
Mr. Hayden said a new, young, well-meaning campaign aide made an innocent mistake. If the announcement violated school regulations, he said, school officials were at fault for not catching it before it was read.
"I don't have a problem with my campaign trying to encourage young people to get involved in the governmental process -- that's what community service is all about" said Mr. Hayden. "What I do have a problem with is reporters desperate for a story that isn't there."
Administrators and teachers union officials said the announce- ment was read in at least two schools.
Overlea High School Principal Norm Smith said the announcement said the Hayden campaign wanted to inform ninth- and 10th-graders that they could earn community service hours by volunteering to work Saturdays for the Hayden campaign or for any other candidate.
Each Maryland high school student is required to put in 75 hours of community service before graduating.
Mr. Smith said the announcement shouldn't have mentioned a )) specific campaign or candidate.
"We do not endorse any political candidate," he said. "This was an unfortunate mistake, and I will see that it is not repeated in the future."
Mr. Hayden put the blame squarely on school officials.
"Our campaign worker was just trying to get young people involved in the American way, and if he didn't know the proper procedure to use, the school should have told him the right way," Mr. Hayden said.
Ray Suarez, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said mentioning the Hayden campaign in the announcement was "highly inappropriate."
"In the past, students have been told that working on political campaigns could be a good educational tool," Mr. Suarez said. "And the students were given a list of political candidates and left to choose their own campaign to work for."
Mr. Suarez said teachers at Kenwood High School told him that they had heard the same announcement. Efforts to reach Kenwood officials were not successful.
The teachers union endorsed Mr. Ruppersberger during the primary campaign. Mr. Suarez said he doesn't expect that endorsement to change for the general election.
Charles Herndon, spokesman for the county school system, also said the mention of the Hayden campaign was not appropriate.
"It shouldn't have happened, but it is being dealt with by the administrations of the respective schools involved," Mr. Herndon said. "There is no plan that I am aware at this time for the school system itself to lodge a formal complaint with the Hayden campaign."
Mr. Herndon said there are specific procedures for reading any announcements over a school's public address system. School officials apparently did not follow those procedures in some cases, he said.
Bob Barrett, the Ruppersberger campaign coordinator, called the school solicitation the "desperate act of a candidate searching for workers" to shore up his campaign.
Mr. Hayden retorted that his campaign had more workers covering polls on primary Election Day than that of Mr. Ruppersberger or any other candidate.