Council criticizes school chief search Balto. Co. councilmen ask board to make process open to public

March 05, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Council members yesterday called on the school board to open its superintendent search, saying the board's secrecy is feeding public distrust.

Several councilmen said the board should interview more candidates, and some said the board should explain its choices to a community still wounded by a controversial former superintendent who was hired and fired in secret.

"I'm not taking positions on who they should be interviewing," Council Chairman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Randallstown Democrat, said, calling for more interviews. "I'm more concerned with the public perception of the process. For the new superintendent to have the confidence of the community, the community must have some confidence in the process."

The board promised confidentiality to the 25 candidates who applied to lead the 102,000-student district, and has maintained that confidential searches draw the most qualified candidates.

But The Sun's publication of the three leading contenders last week has raised questions about the search among community leaders and residents.

They have asked why three candidates -- and only three -- were chosen for interviews. And some community leaders, as well as board members speaking anonymously, said the contest seemed to be rigged to favor Interim Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, a 40-year veteran of the school system who is endorsed by teachers and administrators associations.

One of the leading candidates, Jeffery N. Grotsky, superintendent in Grand Rapids, Mich. -- who some board members said received the least support of the three -- withdrew last week, citing in part a breach of confidentiality.

The third, JoAnn B. Manning, superintendent of the Chester Upland, Pa., school district, was impressive in her interview, some board members said. A board delegation traveled to Chester Upland yesterday to see her district.

Councilman Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat, says the secrecy isn't necessary.

Mr. DePazzo, who likes Dr. Marchione's experience and judgment, says that when high-ranking school officials apply for superintendents' jobs, word usually gets around their home communities -- whether the process is confidential or not.

"And when you weigh it against the openness of the system, the openness should prevail," he said. "I think it's more of a ruse to pretend it's to protect the applicants.

"It's just the school board's excuse for not going public. I think they like playing the big shots, and take things underground to keep the public rancor down. They've never been very open. The way I see it they're out there on ego trips."

Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, also praised Dr. Marchione, but said the board should explain how they came up with the list of candidates who were interviewed finalists -- largely to help recover from the controversy over Dr. Stuart D. Berger, whose contract was bought out in the summer.

Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican, said he'd like to see confidentiality maintained until the finalist stage. list is cut to three to five candidates. He also called for more interviews, and wondered why former Boston Deputy Superintendent Arthur Steller -- who comes from a large urban school district and formerly ran the Oklahoma City schools -- had not been interviewed.

Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat who has publicly endorsed Dr. Marchione, also said the board should name finalists and interview more candidates.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III defended the confidentiality, saying it was a key reason for the success of last year's search for a fire chief.

"In the end, the board will be judged by the performance of the person they pick. I have confidence in this board that they're going to pick the best person."

Some school board members were away on the Pennsylvania trip and unavailable for comment. Others did not return calls. Those who were reached maintained their silence about the search.

The board has scheduled a closed meeting for tonight to discuss the finalists. It is the first time in this search that a meeting has been announced, signaling that the search has moved to the stage where board members are discussing the finalists in concrete terms, said school district spokesman Donald I. Mohler.

Mr. Mohler, noticeably frustrated by the councilmen's suggestions that the board open up its search, said: "I'm perplexed by the whole mania in America, the concept that the process should be more open when, in fact, there was a significant amount of input representing a lot of people."

At the start of the search, the consultant hired by the board interviewed more than 25 residents and groups about qualities they wanted in a superintendent.

Opening up the search could lead to lobbying for candidates, he added. "We try to keep politics out of education as much as possible."

Pub Date: 3/05/96

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