New Jersey finalist drops out of city schools chief contention

Richard A. DiPatri heads for opening in Florida

May 26, 2000|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

One of the four finalists for the top spot in the Baltimore City school system has withdrawn from consideration, opting instead to pursue a position in Florida.

Richard A. DiPatri, the superintendent of the Jersey City, N.J., public school system, was to have visited Baltimore next week as part of the city's process of picking a new school chief. However, on Wednesday evening, the Brevard County, Fla., school board voted 5-0 in favor of DiPatri as its preferred choice for superintendent, all but assuring that he will be offered the position there.

After a visit to Jersey City, an expanded background check on DiPatri, and final negotiation of the contract, the Brevard County school board will take its final vote on June 13.

During his three years in Jersey City, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, DiPatri was alternately praised and criticized for his efforts to turn around a poor, underachieving urban school district. He said he would have been happy to embrace a similar challenge in Baltimore, but Brevard County was moving faster toward making a solid offer.

"It was a matter of timing," DiPatri, 53, said yesterday. "There is nothing Baltimore did that turned me off."

DiPatri's withdrawal leaves three candidates for the Baltimore position: Bonnie S. Copeland, president of the nonprofit Fund for Educational Excellence; A. Skipp Sanders, a deputy superintendent for the Maryland state department of education; and Carmen Valera-Russo, an associate superintendent of the Broward County school district in South Florida.

"We are, of course, disappointed that he will not be considered as a finalist," said Michele B. Noel, the Baltimore school board member who is heading up the search. "He was one of our choices, of course, and a very strong candidate."

Noel said the board expects to decide in mid-June on who will lead the Baltimore school system, which has 103,000 students. The position, which has the official title of chief executive officer, will be vacated by Robert Booker when his contract expires June 30. The post pays $185,000 per year.

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