Bankruptcy hurts finalist for school post

Montgomery Co. selection of superintendent on hold

May 04, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Pointing to allegations of personal financial problems, Montgomery County's school board sidetracked yesterday what appeared to be the imminent appointment of a new superintendent -- Elfreda W. Massie, a high-ranking Baltimore County school administrator.

Days after Massie was named the leading contender to head the 128,000-student district, school board President Reginald Felton said late yesterday afternoon that he had learned of problems "related to the filing of one or more bankruptcies" on her behalf.

In a prepared statement, Felton said he had suspended proceedings in her candidacy "until a complete and thorough explanation can be provided to the Board of Education."

He also asked lawyers hired by the board to review court records and credit reports related to the allegations, which he would not detail.

Massie, 48, deputy superintendent of Baltimore County schools, said last night that she and her husband filed for bankruptcy in May 1998. "We had overextended some of our credit and were advised by our financial adviser and attorney to file for bankruptcy."

She added: "I don't believe in any way that my personal financial circumstances impede my ability to serve in a position as superintendent, nor do they affect my skills or competency to do the job."

Montgomery County board members had planned to visit Baltimore County school headquarters tomorrow to learn more about Massie's work, and had expected to name a superintendent this month.

Before Montgomery County's announcement, Baltimore County Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione said yesterday that Massie had been offered the top schools post -- pending the successful completion of the visit to Baltimore County and her visit to Montgomery County on Friday.

"I'm very sad that she's leaving, and it's a personal loss to me, but it's a wonderful opportunity for her and will be a real gain for Montgomery County," said Marchione, who hired Massie from Montgomery County schools in 1996. She had been an associate superintendent there since 1991.

"She's always impressed me as very intelligent, energetic and committed to boys and girls," Marchione said. "She's a quick study no matter what new area of responsibility she has."

Patricia O'Neill, vice president for Montgomery County's school board, would not confirm that Massie had been offered the superintendent's position. She said Massie is a finalist.

O'Neill said the purpose of the Baltimore County visit is to "reinforce our impressions from the interview and application process."

In her role as deputy superintendent in Baltimore County, Massie has supervised five area superintendents and has coordinated the development of a review process that holds principals accountable for the instructional program in each school, Marchione said.

"She has established good communication links with the minority community, and we have been moving forward and focusing on improving minority achievement," Marchione said.

Massie began her career with Baltimore County schools as an elementary school teacher in 1971. After five years in the classroom, she worked as a counselor and held staff development and personnel positions. She served as director of personnel from 1985 until 1991, when she moved to the Montgomery County school system.

Massie was scheduled to visit Montgomery County on Friday for six hours of interviews with business and civic leaders, elected officials, teachers, parents and students.

Massie was named the leading contender by that county's school board from a field of six finalists.

The process has come under fire in the past week from employee unions and civic leaders who say the selection was made in secret.

County residents were asked this year -- through questionnaires and community meetings -- which qualities they wanted in the next superintendent. No one from the public was invited to participate in candidate interviews.

With 185 schools and a budget of slightly more than $1 billion, Montgomery County's school system is the second largest in the state.

Paul Vance, who held the job for eight years, will retire next month from the $155,000 post.

Sun staff writer Candus Thomson contributed to this article.

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