City school board faces time of flux

4 members might leave by beginning of July

April 22, 2000|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Nine months after his term expired and four months after Mayor Martin O'Malley blocked his reappointment, influential city school board Commissioner Edward J. Brody is still on the panel.

Brody has taken the situation into his own hands: He submitted a letter of resignation April 1 and will depart at the end of this month, leaving one of nine seats empty on the board.

By July 1, three other seats could turn over as well, giving the governor and mayor an unusual opportunity to fill nearly half the board with new recruits.

The turnover comes at a critical time in the city schools' three-year-old, multimillion-dollar reform effort. A new chief executive officer -- to be chosen by the current board next month -- is expected to begin work July 1, after the current chief, Robert Booker, leaves. In addition, city school board members will be negotiating with the governor in the next several months, trying to persuade him to give them more money to continue reform efforts.

School board members are unpaid volunteers chosen jointly by the mayor and governor from a list supplied by the Maryland Department of Education.

But the state hasn't submitted a list of candidates. "I'm waiting for names," O'Malley said this week. The mayor said he has been encouraging local business people to apply for the job.

Finding a replacement for Brody has been difficult, said Ronald Peiffer, assistant state superintendent, because the state must find a business person willing to commit 20 to 30 hours a week to school matters while juggling the responsibilities of his or her own job.

"In comparison with most local boards in the state, this board probably meets significantly more frequently," he said.

The legislation that created the new school commissioners in 1997 required that each school board member represent a certain segment of the community. Brody, president and founder of Brody Transportation Co. in Southwest Baltimore, must be replaced by a high-level business person, Peiffer said.

Brody has been the board's vice chairman since June 1997, and other board members have said they relied on his financial expertise when making key decisions. He apparently wanted to remain on the board, but O'Malley refused to forgive or forget Brody's support of Carl Stokes, one of O'Malley's opponents in last summer's Democratic mayoral primary. Brody orchestrated fund raising for Stokes, a former school board colleague.

In December, O'Malley announced he would not reappoint Brody, accusing Brody of calling him a racist during the campaign;Brody has denied making such a statement. Brody requested a meeting with the mayor, and the two met April 1.

"The mayor was gracious enough to have a meeting with me," Brody said. "We had a very open and frank discussion and I thought it was appropriate at the end of it to give him my resignation."

Brody would not discuss details of the conversation, but the mayor said he believed Brody requested the meeting to make amends. When it became clear O'Malley would not change his mind and reappoint him, Brody tendered his resignation.

The three school board members whose terms are up in June are developer C. William Struever; Colene Y. Daniel, vice president for corporate and community services at Johns Hopkins Hospital; and J. Tyson Tildon, a retired scientist.

Tildon, who heads the board, said he has not decided whether to seek a second term. Daniel and Struever could not be reached to comment.

In the past three years, several board members have been reappointed to second terms, and Peiffer said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick is not concerned about a large turnover on the board because she expects some of the three board members to be reappointed.

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