Board visits Smith in N.C.

Members say trip affirms choice for schools chief

`We were impressed'

Anne Arundel

May 15, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Three weeks after deciding they wanted the Charlotte, N.C., schools chief as their next superintendent, members of the Anne Arundel County school board traveled south this week - just to make sure.

They met with teachers and parents, toured schools and reaffirmed their conviction that Eric J. Smith, superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg County schools, is the best person for the top job in Anne Arundel schools.

"This has reassured me that we made the right choice," school board member Joseph Foster said by phone yesterday from Charlotte. "This is absolutely the right person for our school system."

Foster said he expects the board to make a formal contract offer to Smith this week, then send it to him for his signature. The board is expected to make the appointment official at its meeting June 5.

Four school board members - Foster, Brandon Van Bibber, Paul G. Rudolph and Tony Spencer - arrived in Charlotte on Sunday night for the two-day visit. With Smith's appointment all but certain, the visit felt like an insult to some people in Charlotte.

"It is kind of awkward," said Charlotte school board Chairman Arthur Griffin. "A colleague said it's like getting a divorce, and the old wife has to fix dinner for the new wife. I thought that was fairly appropriate."

Mostly, he said, people just want to know one way or the other if Smith is leaving.

"There's a desire to have a sense of leadership in the public school system, and we'd like to get it resolved as soon as possible," Griffin said.

The Charlotte board and Smith have begun discussions about his departure and the transition in leadership that would follow. Under Maryland law, superintendents in the state must be on the job by July 1.

Smith spent several hours with the Anne Arundel board members yesterday and Monday, showing off schools that have performed well during his six-year tenure.

"We were impressed with what he was able to do," Foster said. "The schools had a very positive, upbeat, can-do kind of sense to them."

He said the board waited until now to check out Charlotte because it was more important to introduce Smith in Anne Arundel first. Smith visited the county last week and met with students, teachers, staff and elected officials.

Several board members said they were confident of what they would see in Charlotte.

"It's something we needed to do to make sure this was the choice we wanted to make," Foster said. "We wanted to see firsthand what we had seen on paper, to see if it was reality.

"It certainly was. This has affirmed everything we heard up to this point."

In an interview yesterday, Smith didn't seem to mind having to juggle the demands of two school boards during the past two days. It's important, he said, for the process to be public.

"It makes it a little bit more complicated and so forth," he said, "but that's the way it needs to be. All in all, it's been working very well."

Anne Arundel schools officials said yesterday that the cost of the board's trip would not be known until later this week. The board has agreed to give Smith a compensation package worth $300,000, including a base salary of $197,000.

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