Schools chief finalist drops out Michigan educator faults board in Baltimore County

March 01, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

One of the three finalists for the superintendency of Baltimore County schools dropped out of the race yesterday, saying the school board broke its promise of confidentiality and appeared mired in a political and racially tinged hiring controversy.

Jeffery N. Grotsky, superintendent of the 30,000-student Grand Rapids, Mich., school district, said he could not trust a school board that leaked information about his candidacy.

"People had faxed me copies of the newspaper, and in discussions with the search consultant it became apparent that the covenant was broken," he said.

Dr. Grotsky acknowledged, though, that the publication of his name in The Sun might not have affected his relationship with the Grand Rapids school board, because he already had told members he was a finalist.

Another factor in his decision, though to a lesser extent, was the conflict brewing between whites and blacks over the race to lead the nation's 24th largest school district, he said.

"It appears that perhaps the reason the confidence was broken was because of the political issues that seemed to have had their genesis in a racial context," he said. "When you have the NAACP and other organizations criticizing the search it doesn't make for a good and clean process."

Publicly, Baltimore County school board members have kept silent about the search, saying they guaranteed confidentiality to the 25 candidates who applied for the $121,000-a-year post. Some Maryland school districts choose to release the names of finalists; Baltimore County board members said they would attract better candidates if they kept the process secret until the end.

But according to board members speaking anonymously, the board had narrowed the field to three candidates -- interim Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, 63; JoAnn B. Manning, 50, superintendent of the 7,660-student district of Chester Upland, Pa.; and Dr. Grotsky, 51.

The selection process has drawn fire from two African-American groups.

The 500-member local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Education Coalition of Organizations questioned the fairness of the search. Leaders of the groups -- both of which have opposed Dr. Marchione's candidacy -- said the search was fixed to favor him. The groups have criticized Dr. Marchione as a fixture in a system that they say has neglected black children.

Drs. Manning and Grotsky lead much smaller school districts. Finalists not scheduled for interviews include a former deputy superintendent in Boston who was a former Oklahoma City superintendent, a Maryland deputy superintendent, an associate superintendent in Washington, D.C., and a former superintendent of Sacramento schools.

Now, the contest seems to be forming along racial lines, said board member Robert F. Dashiell.

Dr. Marchione, who is white and has worked in the district for 40 years, has the overwhelming support of the white residents who have called and written to the board, but blacks overwhelmingly oppose him, Mr. Dashiell said.

"It's beginning to come along those lines, which is unfortunate," he added. "I have a fear that people, although they'll never admit it, would not support Dr. Manning because she's black.

"And I have the fear that people will interpret support for Dr. Manning as being because she's black and that the issue of qualifications will be obscured so that we'll never be able to convince anybody, black or white, that what we've done is right," he said.

Board member Michael P. Kennedy said he didn't understand why the African-American groups oppose Dr. Marchione.

"Long before it was politic to do so, Dr. Marchione was a leader in the county in terms of multiculturalism and inclusion. He's the last person I'd consider racist," Mr. Kennedy said.

Most of the other board members did not return calls yesterday. And most of those who did take calls during the past two days would not discuss the superintendent search, why the three candidates were chosen or why more candidates were not interviewed.

Mr. Dashiell, who said he has wanted to interview more candidates from the start, said yesterday that he wasn't sure whether he would ask the board to interview another candidate in place of Dr. Grotsky. Even if he did, he doesn't believe he'd get the requisite support from the board, he said.

Among the other candidates he and some other board members would like interviewed are: A. Skipp Sanders, a Maryland deputy superintendent; Constance R. Clark, Washington, D.C., associate superintendent; and Arthur W. Steller, former deputy superintendent of Boston schools.

As for Dr. Grotsky's decision to withdraw, Mr. Dashiell said:

"There would come a time in the process, regardless of how tight-lipped we tried to be, that the identity of the person would become known and also the sentiments of the community would become known to the applicants, and legitimately so. So I'd suspect that Dr. Grotsky's withdrawal is not simply based on a breach of confidence

"It's fortunate that it happened now rather than possibly the day before an announcement that he'd be offered the job. If you can't take the heat in the kitchen, you should just as soon let the cooks know that before they turn the oven on."

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