LaVista to get $165,000 in buyout of contract He was fired as head of Baltimore County community colleges

April 15, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County has agreed to pay $165,000 to Daniel J. LaVista -- fired as chancellor of Maryland's largest community college system -- after he said he would release all claims under the remaining two years of his contract.

In announcing the settlement -- which brings LaVista considerably less than his $200,000 annual salary -- system Chairman Francis X. Kelly said yesterday that he hoped the agreement would "mark the end of the recent disruption at the colleges and allow the system to move forward with the engagement of a new chancellor."

Kelly, a former state senator, is leading a committee that is searching for a new chancellor.

LaVista, who was hired in 1995 to reorganize the schools at Essex, Catonsville and Dundalk, was fired in January by the system's board of trustees over "irreconcilable differences."

In his final months, he angered the board by openly supporting professors who have grown more militant over board policies governing them and 70,000 students. He also upset public officials who accused him of making questionable decisions and of being unable to account for savings from program consolidations and personnel reductions.

The settlement comes more than a year after the county bought out another high-ranking educator -- school Superintendent Stuart Berger -- for about $300,000.

LaVista's contract, which was to run through August 1999, was for about $200,000 a year, including perquisites such as house payments and a car. The money for his buyout will come from community college funds, officials said.

Berger was paid more than twice his $121,000 annual salary.

Although education leaders initially were told that the county had agreed to pay for the Berger settlement so that it would not come out of classroom funds, the buyout eventually was taken from the school budget.

LaVista's deal was negotiated by his attorney, Paul Mark Sandler of Baltimore, and County Attorney Virginia W. Barnhart. Neither would comment on it. Berger's deal was reached by his legal representatives and private lawyers hired by the Board of Education.

Kelly, a confidant of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, was chosen to lead the community college board two weeks after LaVista was ousted. In other changes, state legislators enlarged the board from 11 to 15 members and limited trustees to two five-year terms.

In one of his first moves, Kelly hired James L. Fisher, a former president of Towson State University, as adviser to the board. Fisher will be paid $25,000 quarterly, and the chairman has expressed an interest in retaining him for at least a year.

Kelly wants to hire a financial administrator who would work closely with the county budget chief, Frederick J. Homan.

Shortly after LaVista was fired, the board declined to renew the contract of the chancellor's public relations administrator, Deborah Hudson.

Professors, distrustful of the trustees, have voted overwhelmingly to pursue collective bargaining.

With the colleges' enrollment dropping, tuition increasing and a growing number of students requiring remedial work in math and reading, the instructors said, they would feel better protected with unionization.

"We've been in a battle with the board of trustees since September," said Larry Aaronson, president of Save Our Colleges Inc., a nonprofit group of professors. He said Kelly's appointment was reason for hope but that "the agenda still appears to be the same."

Michael Cain, a Catonsville English professor and president of the school's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said, "We cannot count on the goodwill of one man, Mr. Kelly, and the possibility that good people might be appointed to the new board seats. As it stands now, the process is politically driven and, if our colleges are not to be destroyed, we cannot allow people to play politics with them."

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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