Schools chief writes to Smith, urging better communication

April 03, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Looking to end a misunderstanding that upset principals, Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston has urged County Executive James T. Smith Jr. to call whenever he needs something from the school system.

But parents, principals and teachers who have seen Hairston's letter to the county executive worry that its tone might anger Smith as he reviews the system's $891 million budget request for 2003-2004.

Last month, Smith sent Hairston a letter requesting school improvement plans and other documents. While Smith did not intend for principals to be saddled with the request, that's how school officials interpreted it, and principals had to scramble to gather the data.

"Future misunderstandings could easily be avoided if you pick up the telephone and give me a call, as I have suggested on several occasions," Hairston wrote to the county executive last week.

"By calling first, I could have quickly outlined for you the scope of your request and the magnitude of effort that would have been required to reply."

The letter, which Hairston sent to all 162 principals, follows one that Smith sent to them calling the episode a misunderstanding and thanking them for their effort. Hairston said his goal was to put the issue to rest.

But parents, principals and teachers expressed concern that the county executive would view the letter as condescending.

They are particularly worried because Smith is looking over the school system's request for $575 million in county funding next fiscal year. The county is facing a possible cut in state spending, which could force Smith to cut Hairston's budget request, which totals $891 million.

"We expect them to get along through this budget process, and everyone's ego needs to be set aside during this budget making because we're talking about children," said Maggie Kennedy, coordinator of the Baltimore County Education Coalition, an umbrella organization for parent groups.

Hairston said that he did not intend the letter as a rebuke and that he enjoys good relations with Smith. "I need money at this point," Hairston said. "We don't really need enemies when our enemies are poor achievement and children who need support and families who need support."

Smith said through a spokeswoman that he shares a "good, constructive relationship" with Hairston.

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