Schiller vying for job in La. Former schools chief among finalists for New Orleans post

November 28, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Former Baltimore interim schools chief Robert E. Schiller is one of three finalists to become superintendent of public schools in New Orleans.

If hired, Schiller -- who spent a year in Baltimore coordinating the state's takeover of city schools -- would be returning to familiar ground.

A decade ago, Schiller, 52, spent two years as Louisiana's deputy education superintendent. In an interview yesterday from his home in Stuart, Fla., Schiller said he is interested in the challenge of once again supervising a city school district.

The Orleans Parish School District has about 80,000 students -- about 30,000 fewer than Baltimore -- and is expected to decide on a superintendent by year's end.

Schiller spent the last decade as trouble-shooter for state school districts around the country, including Michigan and Delaware. He pointed to his Baltimore experience as the reason for seeking the New Orleans job.

"Baltimore rekindled my passion for doing the right thing for children, particularly those who have needs," Schiller said. "I had so much fun in Baltimore that the headhunter who I was dealing with suggested I talk to New Orleans."

Schiller has a reputation as a staunch advocate of high academic standards and school accountability. He took over Baltimore schools in June 1997 after Superintendent Walter G. Amprey departed.

The city school board hired Schiller for a three-month contract but kept extending the pact as the superintendent search dragged on. Schiller departed in August when the school board hired Robert Booker, former chief financial officer of San Diego schools. While some school board members favored keeping Schiller, Maryland law prevents an interim superintendent from becoming permanent.

Schiller guided Baltimore schools through a historical period. Last year, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke signed a pact to allow the state to run city schools in return for a pledge of $254 million in funding. As Baltimore interim schools chief, Schiller called for the district to improve financial planning and wipe out what he called a culture that accepts failure.

New Orleans schools face similar troubles: limited funding and a student body with a high poverty rate. Superintendent Morris Holmes left in June amid controversies over missing money and equipment, suspicious jumps in test scores and his benefits package.

Schiller earned $11,000 per month as Baltimore's interim chief. The new New Orleans superintendent is expected to earn more than Holmes' annual salary of $147,500.

Baltimore school board Chairman J. Tyson Tildon credited Schiller yesterday with creating a system to better measure PTC student achievement.

"He's high energy," Tildon said. "He played a prominent role in the transition, and he served in his role well."

Pub Date: 11/28/98

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