School board gets 2-week extension to choose interim superintendent At retreat, members begin to assess system's troubles

June 14, 1997|By Eric Siegel and Stephen Henderson | Eric Siegel and Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's new school board has been given until the end of the month to choose an interim superintendent, who will lead the city's restructured system until a permanent leader is selected.

The two-week extension beyond tomorrow's original deadline was granted after board members met yesterday with the two judges who presided over the lawsuits that led to the sweeping school reforms, lawyers for the plaintiffs and defendants in the cases, and key legislative leaders.

"Everyone agreed to it," said Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan.

He said no one wanted the board to rush into a decision. "It's too important," he said.

State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman called the initial deadline for the nine-member board, which was sworn in May 29, a "very hard timetable."

"If they're not quite ready, I think it's fair," said Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and key architect of legislation that sent an additional $254 million in aid to the city's ailing schools in exchange for a greater say by the state in how the schools are run.

Board members, who had gathered for a weekend retreat at a suburban hotel, welcomed the extension.

"It gives us that necessary latitude to complete the task," said J. Tyson Tildon, the school board chairman.

The interim superintendent will run the schools until Oct. 31, when the board must select a permanent chief executive officer. The CEO will then choose chief academic and financial officers, and the position of superintendent will no longer exist.

The interim superintendent is prevented by the enabling legislation from applying for the job on a permanent basis.

The board will hold its first public meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the system's headquarters at 200 E. North Ave.

Tildon said the panel might take all of the additional two weeks to decide. But he said it would use the extra time to continue to review more than two dozen current applications and to accept new ones.

The only finalist for the interim job whose name has surfaced, wealthy developer John Erickson, said this week that reforms would be speeded up if the board chose a permanent chief now. He also said he was not interested in taking the job for just a few months.

Tildon said it was "not likely" that the board would bypass the selection of an interim superintendent and pick its permanent CEO but added: "We don't rule it out."

He declined to say who was on the board's short list but said he hoped to make the names public after all the finalists were notified.

During yesterday's retreat, the board heard presentations from high-ranking school administrators who oversee buildings, finance, instruction and procurement.

"What we're doing is information-gathering," Tildon said.

As they met, the man who led the city's school system for six years, former Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, was saying goodbye to the district and the local media on his last day of work.

During a news conference held at his alma mater, Edmondson-Westside High School in West Baltimore, Amprey reflected on his tenure in the superintendent's office and offered advice to those who will follow him.

He also announced a gift to the city schools from his new bosses at cable giant TCI Communications of Baltimore: free technology training for one teacher from each of Baltimore's 179 schools.

Beginning July 1, Amprey will be National Vice President, Urban Education, for Education, Communications and Training, a TCI subsidiary.

Amprey was upbeat during the news conference, insistent that he was not bitter about the reorganization that pushed him out of the top school job and confident that he had done well in the district.

"I think one of the best things I did was initiating the concept of privatization in the district," Amprey said, referring to the district's brief relationship with Education Alternatives Inc., a private Minnesota company that was hired to run several city schools.

"A lot of people say we failed with that because we didn't renew their contract, but I think we learned an awful lot by doing it."

Amprey also said he was proud of the communitywide effort he helped organize in 1992 to forge a strategic plan for the district.

"We really had everyone involved, and that was important. We didn't make decisions about kids without asking the people who are involved in their lives," Amprey said.

As for the new board members: "Establish yourselves as independent, and make your own decisions," he implored them.

Amprey said that in addition to his duties at TCI, he will work on a book about school reform in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 6/14/97

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