Open search urged for schools chief

Balto. County Council seeks to change method of picking educator

January 19, 2000|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Pressuring the Baltimore County school board to change the way it picks its next superintendent, the County Council asked last night for openness to replace secrecy in the search for a top educator.

The council adopted a resolution urging the Board of Education "to solicit the input of the public in all phases of its search for a new Superintendent of Education."

Council members said they were chagrined by a recent news report highlighting differences between Baltimore County and neighboring Howard County in how each will select its next schools chief.

Howard County plans to announce its top finalists and allow them to be interviewed by parents and teachers. The Baltimore County choice will remain under wraps until the school board announces its final decision.

"They say it's the same old board," said Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, describing how the public is reacting to the confidential search. "[Board members] do things in closed meetings."

School board members said that they will consider the council's request but believe that a confidential search will yield the best applicants.

If names are made public, "there are highly qualified people who would simply not apply," said board member Sanford V. Teplitzky.

The resolution underscores simmering tensions between the two governmental bodies.

Council members and members of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's staff often complain that the board does not give them complete information or spend the money it receives wisely.

The council must approve the board's budget but has little say in how the money is spent. Board members are appointed by the governor, so they are not directly accountable to voters or local elected officials.

The power of the purse could be sufficient to persuade the board to alter its superintendent search, council members said.

Asked if the resolution would have any impact, Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, said, "I think it could, because they have to deal with us with the budget.

"They have a good relationship with us, and they don't want it destroyed," he said. "It's something that is easy to rectify."

Board members agreed that they would like to maintain good relations with the council.

"We'll listen to what they have to say," said board member John A. Hayden. "My personal sense is that [an open process] won't be the best way to get people to apply, but we're listeners."

The board is looking for a replacement for Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, who is retiring in June. Many critics complained when Marchione was hired four years ago that the process was rigged in his favor. Marchione had been a longtime county employee and a favorite of many administrators.

At that time, board members collected input from residents about the qualities they wanted to see in a new superintendent but did not release the names of the finalists.

The board members wants to use the same process again.

The board has hired an Illinois consultant to find a leader, which it hopes to have in place by spring. Board members refuse to talk about possible candidates and direct questions to board president Donald L. Arnold, who was unavailable for comment last night.

At the beginning of the current search, "we conducted what we thought was an unprecedented amount of public input from everyone in the county," Teplitzky said. "We intentionally announced the process at the beginning so everyone would understand what the process is."

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