Massie withdraws school chief candidacy

Montgomery board suspended action after bankruptcy revealed

May 06, 1999|By Jackie Powder and Candus Thomson | Jackie Powder and Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

In the face of rising controversy over her personal financial problems, Baltimore County's deputy school superintendent, Elfreda W. Massie, dropped out of contention yesterday to head the Montgomery County school district.

Massie was the leading contender for the superintendent's job until Montgomery County's school board learned this week that she and her husband were seeking bankruptcy protection from more than $800,000 in debts.

The discovery prompted the board to suspend her candidacy while it investigated the matter.

"The recent attention given to my personal financial situation has taken the focus away from where it must be -- on the many issues being faced by the Montgomery County Public School system," Massie said in a statement released yesterday afternoon. "I remain confident that, if given the opportunity, I will one day be able to make a positive difference in the lives of children as a school superintendent."

In the statement, Massie said that she intends to remain with the Baltimore County school system, where she holds the administration's No. 2 position.

Revelations about Massie's financial troubles do not seem to have hurt her reputation among Baltimore County colleagues and school board members.

County educators have credited her with improving the school system's relationships with minorities and making minority student achievement a priority.

"I've always felt she was a very capable, effective administrator," school board member Michael P. Kennedy said. "She's done an excellent job. This doesn't change that."

Said board member Paul Cunningham: "In terms of her abilities, her knowledge of curriculum and management skills. I think she would make a good superintendent somewhere."

Baltimore County Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione learned through an anonymous letter about Massie's financial problems shortly after the bankruptcy filing in June last year.

He said he discussed the matter with her once and never brought it up again.

On Tuesday, Marchione said he viewed Massie's personal financial situation as a "nonissue," and that it had no effect on her job performance.

Massie's withdrawal came after she met privately Tuesday night with the Montgomery County School Board at the home of board President Reginald Felton to explain her finances.

In a statement, Felton said the school board members "wish Dr. Massie well in her professional career."

He thanked her for "sharing her impressive expertise and insights about educational leadership and instructional reform."

Felton said the board has asked the search firm of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, which screened superintendent candidates for the board, to identify others for consideration.

With 128,000 students, 185 schools and a budget of slightly more than $1 billion, Montgomery County has the state's second-largest school system and is considered one of the strongest academically.

Superintendent Paul L. Vance, who has held the job eight years, is to retire June 30. If a successor is not named, the county would have to hire an interim superintendent on a one-year contract.

Massie was one of six candidates -- four men and two women -- to be selected as finalists for the $155,000-a-year job. Last week, she emerged as the front-runner.

Her financial problems came to light Monday, two days before Montgomery County school board members had planned to visit Baltimore County school headquarters to talk to her colleagues as a final step in the superintendent selection process.

In filing for bankruptcy protection last year, Massie and her husband, Leonard Percy Massie Jr., claimed debts totaling $886,979, including more than $36,000 in American Express charges, $11,000 for two vacations in Cancun, Mexico, and $106,919 in other charges on 22 credit cards.

Massie said Monday she and her husband had "overextended" their credit in an attempt to help family members.

Her annual salary is $108,150; her husband, principal at Featherbed Lane Elementary School in Baltimore County, makes $72,641.

In a settlement approved Tuesday, the Massies agreed to pay $10,000 to be distributed among unsecured creditors.

Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.

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