School CFO weighs exit

Baltimore County superintendent asks Markowski to stay

Board members surprised

Announcement follows second-in-command's forced departure.

January 11, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County schools' chief financial officer, who is widely credited with bringing order and clarity to the system's finances, is threatening to quit, apparently after the forced resignation of his top deputy.

Chief Financial Officer John M. Markowski called his staff together Friday and told them he was resigning from the school system, effective at the end of the fiscal year in June.

Markowski's announcement came less than 48 hours after Deputy Chief Financial Officer Roy J. Hicks resigned. Sources within the school system said Hicks was pressured to resign by Baltimore County schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione because of problems with the way Hicks managed and treated personnel.

Marchione immediately asked Markowski to reconsider his decision to resign, which Markowski said he has agreed to do. But Markowski said he also is willing to resign immediately -- rather than wait until June -- if the superintendent believes his effectiveness has been compromised too severely.

"This is a personal decision, and I have to do what is best for me and best for the Baltimore County public schools," Markowski said. "I remain very supportive of [Marchione] and believe he has done a lot of great things for the school system."

The turmoil in the school system's financial leadership comes days before the superintendent had planned to present his proposed operating budget for next year to the school board. The presentation had been scheduled for tomorrow night's school board meeting, but school officials said it has been postponed until the board's Jan. 26 meeting.

CFO is well-regarded

Marchione hired Markowski as part of an effort to fill nonacademic positions with people who have technical expertise for those jobs. In the past, budget and construction management jobs often had been filled with educators who didn't necessarily have the required skills.

Before coming to Baltimore County, Markowski, 51, was finance director for the Fauquier County, Va., government and school system. In his 2 1/2 years in the county schools, he has quickly earned a reputation among school board members, administrators, principals, parents and county officials for being direct, open, honest and clear.

"He's brought order to the chaos in terms of the budget process and made it much more understandable and manageable," said board member Sanford Teplitzky, who is chairman of the board's budget and audit committee. "I believe that with last year's budget, we finally had a budget that was reflective of the board's priorities and the system's priorities."

As Marchione reorganized the system's administrative structure during the past 18 months, almost all of the system's nonacademic functions -- including its $640 million operating budget -- have been consolidated under Markowski. The system's academic functions have been placed under the deputy superintendent.

Markowski refused to discuss why he was considering resigning from the system, other than to say it was "a very personal issue that I'd rather not talk about." He confirmed that it was related to the departure of Hicks "in a very indirect way."

Hicks, who did not return phone messages left at his home over the weekend, was brought to the Baltimore County schools by Markowski about a year ago. The pair had worked together previously.

He was the deputy finance director of St. Mary's County and comptroller of the Baltimore County schools before being promoted to deputy chief financial officer at the beginning of the school year.

Problems in management

Several school officials described morale as being "very low" in the school system's financial offices.

"Roy [Hicks] had a management style that was very abrupt and abusive," one school official said. Another said that the superintendent had no choice but to ask Hicks to leave because there was so much unhappiness in the office.

Saying that it was a personnel issue, Marchione refused to comment on Hicks' departure, other than to confirm that the deputy chief financial officer had resigned last week.

The superintendent also refused to discuss the specifics of what was happening with Markowski.

"I'm very pleased with the work John has done," Marchione said. "I regret that he is considering leaving and hope that it is a decision he will reconsider."

School board members said they were shocked to hear reports from the superintendent late Friday that Markowski wanted to resign.

"I think he has done a brilliant job and brought a lot of order and rational organization," said board member Paul Cunningham. "Most importantly, he's very honest with us. If he leaves, there's going to be a huge void."

Pub Date: 1/11/99

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