Balto. Co. school chief is resigning Disney leaves in July after serving year as school board president

He cites family, job pressures

His parting statement fails to mention several controversies

June 22, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's school board president, whose one-year term encompassed some of the school district's biggest controversies, announced yesterday that he is quitting after nearly a decade on the board.

Calvin D. Disney, known as a champion of school reform and a tight-lipped leader who shied away from public remarks, said in a statement just before leaving town for vacation that he would resign July 1, a year before his term on the board ends.

Disney's statement, which made no mention of the recent turmoil over mismanagement within the district, said that time spent on school board matters had taken a toll on his family life. His decision also was triggered by added duties as vice president of Whiting Turner Contracting Co.

The resignation comes amid a flurry of departures from the school district -- many prompted by recent disclosures of procurement violations -- and just one day after the system's No. 2 official abruptly announced his retirement.

Reached in Ocean City last night, Disney said his decision had nothing to do with the recent turmoil; he said decided to quite in January. State superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said last night that Disney told her in January he was seriously considering resigning at the end of the school year because of business and family obligations.

"Maybe you view these as being particularly contentious times, but these types of situations exist all the time in schools," Disney said. "That didn't play any role at all."

Still, others speculated whether the festering problems that led to the start of an internal audit of the facilities department in mid-January might have sealed his decision.

"If I had served 10 years and the system was in the midst of the kind of controversies it's in, and perhaps even on the brink of larger controversies that might involve events that took place during my tenure, and I knew within a year I'd be gone anyway, I'd probably leave now," said board member Robert F. Dashiell.

"You're not really hanging around with much positive to look forward to."

Disney's resignation, coupled with the departure of 10-year board member Ronald Jacoby -- whose term ends June 30 -- drains the board of its most experienced members.

Among the 11 nonstudent members, two have served seven years, two have served three years and the rest only one or two. In addition to Disney's, two seats are up for reappointment by the governor July 1.

The members with the longest tenure -- vice president Paul S. Cunningham and Dunbar Brooks -- are expected to be elected the board's president and vice president, respectively, in early July.

"I think he cared very much about the system and wanted to provide the kind of leadership he has experienced in his positions at Whiting Turner," Grasmick said.

Over the past decade, Disney has championed a number of reforms, including school-based management and magnet schools. He also was instrumental in the hiring of former superintendent Stuart D. Berger, whose mission as a "change agent" was too much for county residents and officials to stomach. Last summer the board bought out his contract a year early for $300,000.

Berger said that although he felt betrayed by Disney because the board president withdrew his support and joined the move to oust him, his resignation is "a terrible thing for the school system."

Berger said school leaders have forfeited too much power this year to elected officials and the teacher's union. Without Disney, they'll forfeit even more, he said.

"He came on to bring about change and he brought about change," Berger said. "Cal Disney is willing to make hard decisions.

"I think he's a leader who is demoralized by all the stuff that hasn't gone the way he hoped it would. And certainly he has to share some responsibility for that. I don't believe the events of '95-'96 year have gone the way he wanted them to go. Being the person he is no one would ever know that."

Board member Brooks recalled that Disney has spent an inordinate amount of time on the school system -- in recent years he spent at least a couple of nights a week in Annapolis during General Assembly sessions lobbying for legislators. Disney is a former president of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

As former building committee chairman, Disney brought his professional background to school construction and facilities issues.

"The board depended on his expertise and knowledge of facilities," Brooks said. "Because of his background people looked at him on thorny issues that others wouldn't have the expertise in."

But it was that department -- facilities -- that sank into trouble in recent years. And those troubles exploded this spring.

Two recent internal audits detailed chronic mismanagement, as well as violations of procurement laws and practices, which prompted a preliminary inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The County Council also is auditing the department.

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