In a surprise move, Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston has transferred Chief Financial Officer Robin L. Churchill - a key member of his Executive Cabinet - to another post within the school system.
Hairston's decision comes at a critical time: He is scheduled to unveil his first budget proposal to the Board of Education at a meeting tonight.
A superintendent's budget proposal is similar to a blueprint for the next year, and many parents and teachers are eager to learn about the kinds of curriculum and classroom programs Hairston has in mind.
School board members said yesterday that Hairston's staff told them about the transfer last week. Board member John A. Hayden said he doesn't expect the move to adversely affect the budget process, adding: "I'll be upset if there's a delay."
In her new position, Churchill, who has experience as an accountant and an auditor, will focus on capital budget issues, including a three-phase, multimillion-dollar school renovation program that has fallen a year behind schedule, said school board President Donald L. Arnold.
Michael J. Goodhues, director of management and budget for the school system, will temporarily fill the chief financial officer's post, Arnold said. School officials are expected to provide board members with a full report on the transfer during the closed-door portion of tonight's meeting.
Deputy Superintendent Christine M. Johns - who oversees fiscal departments - could not be reached for comment yesterday.
School spokesman Charles A. Herndon declined to comment.
Churchill, who has held the top fiscal position in the school system since August 1999, could not be reached for comment yesterday. A secretary at her Timonium office said she was ill and that she would be away from work all week.
Churchill, a friend of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger for many years, served as county administrative officer for 16 months before leaving that post to become the school system's comptroller in 1998.
As chief financial officer, Churchill was involved in projects that didn't always go smoothly.
Last year, she was part of a team of administrators that failed to meet a deadline to upgrade an important payroll computer system and protect it from potential Year 2000 glitches.
As a result, board members hired an Owings Mills firm to provide a payroll backup - a contract that cost the school system more than $300,000.
A few months ago, Churchill warned board members that the first phase of the school renovation program could run as much as $18 million over budget. Churchill was responsible for monitoring construction budgets.
Hairston's decision to transfer Churchill is the most recent in a series of management moves he has made since taking over as superintendent six months ago.
The superintendent transferred William Rust, the former director of technology, to a new position within the department of educational support services. Rust was replaced by an outside consultant.
Hairston also asked James H. Wilson, then head of the Office of Equity and Assurance -a high-profile position within the community - to become assistant to the deputy superintendent. The person who had held the assistant's job, Barbara S. J. Dezmon, moved into Wilson's job.
In October, Hairston created the position of chief of staff and hired an educator from Canada to fill it.