Hyde pulls out of report

Move comes in response to public criticism

Pfaff to lead analysis

Schools' chief distances self from construction inquiry

April 18, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

In response to public criticism, Superintendent William H. Hyde announced last night that he is removing himself from the effort to straighten out the county school system's troubled construction department.

At a sparsely attended meeting in New Windsor, Hyde said he has asked Margaret Pfaff, the school system's elementary education supervisor, to lead the analysis of the 100-page investigative report prepared by a team of attorneys and former FBI agents.

Further distancing himself from the process, Hyde said Pfaff will report directly to the school board president and her recommendations will not be filtered through his office.

Last week, Hyde released a 2 1/2-page timeline to analyze an independent report that characterized the construction department as chaotic, inexperienced and unprepared. He said he would present a detailed "action plan" to the school board in May.

In the text accompanying the timeline, Hyde said he would get weekly progress reports from staff members and would assume "full responsibility for the conduct and content of the study, the development of appropriate administrative procedures, and recommendations for modifications to board policies."

"Let me reassure you that this report is our first priority," said board President C. Scott Stone. "For many days, probably weeks now, I have been talking with board members to come to this decision and demonstrate to the community that there is no predisposition on what the results of this will be.

"We know it's important to the community, it's important to teachers and it's important to parents not only that the report be out there, but how we're going to prevent these occurrences from reoccurring."

Since the release of the investigators' report three weeks ago, administrators and the board have been criticized for their involvement -- and sometimes lack of involvement -- with the report.

Within days, board member Susan W. Krebs, parents and PTA members complained that the superintendent and the board's attorney had improperly been involved in editing the report that was released to the public.

Last month, the investigators hired by the board to probe the school system's bungled construction projects released 90 percent of their findings. Lead investigator Richard D. Bennett, a former U.S. Attorney for Maryland, sealed the rest and presented them to Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes.

Soon after, some parents questioned the lack of response by the five-member school board.

And at last week's board meeting, a PTA president suggested that anyone mentioned in the report -- including the superintendent -- should not be involved in correcting deficiencies in the construction department.

Another parent called for the resignations of top school administrators and board members unwilling to make changes. Several residents have done the same in recent letters to the editor of the local newspaper.

"There's a general tone that exists in some quarters of the community that the staff of the construction department and higher management and administrators are criticized in the report and saying, `Sheesh, if they're criticized in the report, is it reasonable for them to be part of the solution?' " Stone said in an interview after the meeting.

"So the question became how to demonstrate to the community that the board is taking this report seriously and to reflect the best interests of the school system," Stone said.

Hyde spoke with Pfaff about taking over analysis of the report and developing an action plan for the first time yesterday morning.

Asked about her first priorities, Pfaff said, "Having not had a whole lot of time to think about it, I haven't really come up with that yet."

Pfaff currently works on the school system's executive leadership team as the supervisor of elementary schools.

A former teacher, assistant principal and principal of Eldersburg Elementary, Pfaff holds a doctoral degree in curriculum and staff development from the University of Maryland as well as degrees in administration, elementary education and reading from Western Maryland College and Towson University.

Board members contacted last night said that though they were unaware of Pfaff's appointment, they agreed with the concept.

"I didn't know that was in the works but that's a very good approach," said board member Gary W. Bauer. "That takes Hyde completely out of the process and addresses the concerns expressed in the newspaper by some citizens."

But Krebs questioned whether someone with no experience in procurement laws or construction can competently develop a plan to correct problems relating to construction. Krebs and Bauer also disputed Stone's statement that the board has been talking about the report for weeks -- or even days.

"Our board has not had one moment's discussion about this," Krebs said. "What did we have a $200,000 report done for if we're not going to talk about it?"

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