Grotsky, rhymes with Trotsky Superintendent fired: Once again, Harford operates like the former Soviet Union.

March 18, 1998

OFFICIALS in Harford County are lucky that they run a bedroom community of residents so drained from their long commutes and from shuttling kids to soccer games that they have scant energy to pay heed to local political shenanigans.

Harford recently paid a Bel Air attorney $25,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing it of concealing a Legg Mason study about residential growth. Why the county hid the report as if it were Saddam Hussein protecting his chemical arsenal is still unclear.

Now a bigger bill is on the table: $210,000 to buy out school Superintendent Jeffery N. Grotsky for reasons just as murky. How many books and computers could the cash-strapped system buy with that money?

In 1996, the Harford Board of Education hired Dr. Grotsky from Grand Rapids, Mich., to replace the retiring Ray Keech. Dr. Grotsky left his former employer on poor terms after he received an unsatisfactory job rating. But the Harford board was practically defiant in choosing Dr. Grotsky in spite of the record.

"It raised a flag [but] we checked the flag and found it was a nonissue," board member Richard W. Daub Jr. said then.

For a time, the board looked as if it did know best. State officials praised frugal Harford for squeezing much bang from its buck. County test scores rose to fourth in Maryland while spending hovered in the midrange. Dr. Grotsky was lauded for requiring administrators to leave their ivory towers and teach periodically. He spoke the language of the business community, persuading the private sector to donate $90,000 so he could send staffers to "quality management" seminars. He seemed to be what the board ordered: a determined, sometimes overbearing, leader unafraid to shake things up.

Monday, however, the board shook Dr. Grotsky right out of his job. No one has specified his shortcomings, only foggy asides about communications problems.

Some have made comparisons to Stuart Berger, the turbulent former superintendent in Baltimore County who was driven out in 1995, also with a fat payout. But comparisons end there: Dr. Berger's tenure was like watching a train wreck. Dr. Grotsky's end came suddenly, almost noiselessly. Ironically, Dr. Grotsky withdrew as a candidate to succeed Dr. Berger before taking the Harford post because he was annoyed at the Baltimore County board for leaking his name prematurely to the press.

No such problem exists in Harford County, where officials don't think they need to explain much so long as the hush money holds out.

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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