Colleagues praise deputy superintendent

Many say bankruptcy shouldn't affect her bid for Montgomery position

May 05, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Although her bid for the Montgomery County superintendent's job might be in jeopardy because of personal financial problems, colleagues and supporters of Baltimore County schools Deputy Superintendent Elfreda W. Massie have rallied to her defense.

The Montgomery County School Board had named Massie as the leading contender for the superintendent's job in that county. But on Monday, the board suspended consideration of her candidacy after learning that Massie and her husband had filed for bankruptcy protection to avoid more than $800,000 in debt.

"It should be a nonissue as far as I'm concerned," said Baltimore County Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, who hired Massie from Montgomery County schools in 1996. "She will be an outstanding superintendent someplace, someday, whether it's in Montgomery County or elsewhere."

Marchione said that he learned of Massie's financial troubles shortly after the June bankruptcy filing, through an anonymous letter. He said he discussed it with Massie, and then "dismissed it."

"The reality is that her personal financial situation has had no relation to what she's done on the job," Marchione said. "She has had responsibility for department and office budgets, and there's never been any problems whatsoever."

Baltimore County school board President Dunbar Brooks said Massie's bankruptcy filing does not affect his confidence in her.

"I'd just say for the record that I have the highest trust in her integrity and competence," he said.

Other school officials and board members said they were unaware of the financial problems until news reports yesterday. And Ella White Campbell, a community activist along the Liberty Road corridor -- though "shocked" at word of Massie's problems -- praised her skills in working effectively with neighborhood groups.

"She has been very instrumental in re-establishing confidence in the school system in the minority community. She has taken decisive action, and she has done it very quietly and diplomatically," Campbell said.

In the past year, several Baltimore County school board members have discussed Massie as a likely successor to Marchione if he retires in 2000 as expected. She also has been mentioned as a potential replacement for Howard County Superintendent Michael E. Hickey when his contract expires in 2000.

It remained unclear yesterday how revelations about Massie's financial problems would affect her candidacy for the Montgomery County job.

Montgomery school board members postponed a visit this week to Baltimore County school headquarters to learn more about Massie and a Friday meeting that would have introduced her to Montgomery County.

Last night, Massie met privately with the Montgomery County board at the home of its president, Reginald Felton, to explain her finances.

She responded "No comment" when asked if she would withdraw her application.

Felton said he expected the board to make a decision by Friday.

"We're still reviewing the materials, and part of that review was meeting with Dr. Massie," he said. "The board has to absorb the material and decide what it wants to do with that material."

Jorge Ribas, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, said details of the bankruptcy filing call into question Massie's suitability as a superintendent.

"I don't think she is a viable candidate anymore," Ribas said. "The problem is with living up to her obligations. She is going to be the leader of our kids, a role model to them. She has personal responsibilities."

On Monday, Massie said that she and her husband had "overextended" their credit in an attempt to help out some family members. She stressed that her personal financial problems had no impact on her job performance.

Massie and her husband, Leonard Percy Massie Jr. -- principal of Featherbed Lane Elementary School in Baltimore County -- filed for bankruptcy protection on June 29, 1998. They claimed debts totaling $886,979, including more than $36,000 in American Express charges, $11,000 for two vacations in Cancun, Mexico, and $142,919 worth of charges on 23 credit cards.

Massie's annual salary as deputy superintendent is $108,150, and her husband makes $72,641.

Joseph J. Bellinger, a Baltimore lawyer appointed as the trustee in the bankruptcy case, said the Massies have agreed to pay him $10,000, which will be distributed to creditors to settle claims.

Bellinger said that the Massies elected to pay him the money rather than sell off any of their personal property.

He said the agreement ends a dispute he had with the Massies over the value of their personal possessions. In the bankruptcy filing, they listed cash on hand as $10, and the value of their personal property as $3,000.

Court records show that an appraiser hired by Bellinger estimated the value of the Massies' personal possessions at $22,700.

"I've had some problems with disclosure in this case," Bellinger said. "They listed no bank accounts, which they later acknowledged that they had. That caught my eye, because they're professionals."

According to the bankruptcy filing, the Massies also owe $735,969 on two mortgages: a residence in Ellicott City and a rental property in Gaithersburg.

Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.

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