4-year school pact OK'd

Board agrees to pay city's new chief $192,00 annually

Bonuses also available

Russo to assume superintendent's post next week

June 28, 2000|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

In a vote of confidence in the woman chosen to run Baltimore schools, the school board voted last night to give Carmen V. Russo a four-year contract and pay her $192,000 a year.

The board unanimously ratified the contract without discussion.

The agreement includes a provision under which Russo can earn bonuses for improving student achievement and school management.

Russo, an energetic, reform-minded administrator with more than three decades of experience in large, urban school districts, is to take over Baltimore's 103,000-student system next week.

After seeing two chief executive officers come and go in three years, the school board negotiated a four-year contract with Russo that will keep her here through the 2003-2004 school year. She succeeds Robert Booker, who is stepping down Friday at the end of a two-year contract.

Russo becomes the second-highest-paid superintendent in Maryland. She will earn $7,000 more a year than Booker, and her salary is second only to Montgomery County's Jerry D. Weast, who is paid $237,794 annually. Baltimore and Howard counties rank third, each paying their superintendents $180,000 a year.

Her contract is a show of faith at a time when few big-city superintendents stay long on the job. Their average tenure across the country is less than three years.

Russo, 64, will be the second woman in Baltimore history to run its schools. The other was the late Alice G. Pinderhughes, for whom the central school administration building is named.

An associate superintendent in Broward County, Fla., Russo impressed the school board with a long track record that included turning around troubled high schools in New York City. Her appointment comes at a critical juncture in an ambitious $254 million school reform effort begun by the city and state three years ago.

Baltimore's elementary schools appear poised for a rebound, having scored remarkable gains on standardized reading and math tests this spring. But many of the higher grades continue to lag behind the rest of the state, and significant numbers of city students don't finish high school.

The school board went to court earlier this week to appeal for millions more in state education aid, saying the revitalization of impoverished city schools is being shortchanged at a time of economic prosperity.

The city is seeking $49.7 million for the coming school year to send failing students to summer school, expand preschool, restore fine arts programs and pursue similar initiatives. The state's final offer, made last week, was for slightly more than $30 million.

The city schools are in the midst of tightening financial controls in the wake of disclosures about no-bid contracting a month ago that led to the resignation of the chief financial officer and one-month suspension of the business officer.

Last night, the school board approved new spending rules that will govern everything from the way in which contractors are hired to the purchasing of basic supplies. The new procedures are more stringent on professional service contracts than state law requires and specify that most contracts over $15,000 be competitively bid.

The school system had been operating without its own spending policy, three years after becoming independent of City Hall.

The school system was restructured in 1997 under a settlement of three major lawsuits over the funding and management of Baltimore's public schools.

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