Baltimore schools eliminate position of computer chief Amprey says Richburg ousted in 'reorganization'

November 12, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore school officials have dismissed the chief of their troubled computer department, barely a year after hiring him to build a new record-keeping system for special education services.

Craig Richburg is the second computer services supervisor in 15 months to lose that job, which has become a battleground in a legal dispute over the education of disabled students.

The new record-keeping system was to have been launched in September but remains incomplete, schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey confirmed.

Richburg's $74,500-a-year job was eliminated Oct. 30 "in a reorganization," Amprey said. The school system's departments that manage student records and provide technology services for instruction are being merged.

"We need to find a director who has experience in both areas," Amprey said. He declined to comment further.

"It was totally unexpected," Jeffrey Nesson, Richburg's attorney, said yesterday. "He was told that he was not fit for the new position. He was not given the option of applying for any other position. He was told he would have the opportunity to clean out his desk."

Richburg could not be reached for comment.

School sources said Richburg's termination was the culmination of a string of management disagreements.

The computer department crisis has its roots in a 12-year-old federal lawsuit headed for court today. In that suit, advocates for disabled children charged that the school system failed to provide for or keep track of their educational needs.

Richburg, who now lives in Howard County, was hired in October 1995 to take over a troubled department that must serve two masters: special education and the broader school system. Sister Kathleen Feeley, the school systems' administrator for special education, hired Richburg; Amprey consented.

Richburg was put in charge of the department's 50 employees and a $9 million budget swollen by the demands of the new computer system, even though his resume shows he had no experience managing such a large organization. He was a self-employed contractor, his resume shows.

This year, when the project fell behind schedule, a court order designated a computer consultant to serve as Richburg's boss and run the department to speed the project along.

Richburg's short tenure was marked by controversies, including an FBI inquiry that he claimed he was assisting; reports of hate mail directed to his office; and a defamation lawsuit filed against him by his predecessor in the job.

"They can derail me all they want; the process will continue," Richburg said in March, claiming that he was being harassed for bringing allegations of corruption in the department to the attention of federal authorities.

The inquiry concerns the school system's purchases of computer equipment and software design services between 1992 and 1995. School system employees interviewed by the FBI said they were asked whether co-workers had improper ties to companies with which they did business.

The FBI preliminary inquiry is still pending, an agency spokesman said Friday.

Richburg said he received unsigned hate mail from co-workers after he discussed the allegations on a March 14 television news program. A federal judge later issued a cease and desist order, instructing school officials and employees to cooperate with Richburg.

After the program, Richburg was sued by Terry Laster, the former computer department director whom he replaced. Laster claimed Richburg's allegations defamed him.

Laster left the computer department in September 1995 after special-education managers declared that the school system's computer designed to track special education case records, which he designed, was flawed and needed to be replaced.

Pub Date: 11/12/96

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