Fired Howard County school system business chief Bruce Venter is making a last-ditch effort to have his severance request honored and his dignity restored, or he intends to file a civil suit against the school board, which he accuses of allowing Superintendent John R. O'Rourke to abuse his power.
Venter's lawyer, education activist Allen Dyer, said yesterday that he would ask the Maryland State Board of Education to approve compensation for the surprise termination Sept. 5. If members refuse, he will file a lawsuit against the county board in Circuit Court, Dyer said.
FOR THE RECORD - In an article in yesterday's editions of The Sun, it was incorrectly reported that fired Howard County school system business chief Bruce Venter will ask the Maryland Board of Education to approve a severance package. In fact, he plans to ask the board to overturn his termination.
The Sun regrets the error.
The package request has been pared severely from the original, which had sought one year's salary -- $131,325. Venter now is seeking a month's salary -- $10,943 -- with payment for accumulated sick leave and vacation time, health insurance premiums for six months and legal fees of up to $3,000.
Venter also wants the opportunity to preserve his self-respect and find another job. To that end, he has asked that the school system allow him to resign and to not give prospective employers details about his employment other than a letter signed by O'Rourke stating Venter's competence.
"That's just to clear the air," Venter said of the letter. "As far as I'm concerned, I have not done anything that would entail termination."
The latest proposal was delivered to the county school board via e-mail and the Postal Service last week, but members refused to read it on advice from their attorney, Michael S. Molinaro, who in a letter mailed Thursday to Dyer said it was his duty to "keep the Board impartial and not let its objectivity be questioned."
Dyer said Venter has no other recourse but to ask for intervention from the state board or the court system.
"There's a number of problems with why this happened," Dyer said in an earlier interview. "The first thing is that you have a summary termination. There was no effort to comply with the statutory procedures, which include a written notification, a chance to defend yourself and a chance to go before the [county] board."
Dyer said that indicates to him that the local school board is refusing to play by the rules, and that appealing to its members would be pointless.
"The Board of Education is unlawfully delegating authority to the superintendent to summarily dismiss employees, and they don't have the power to do that, so this is a board problem," Dyer said. "The superintendent is just the functionary. The people who are causing this is the Board of Education of Howard County."
Last week, school system attorney Mark Blom rebutted Dyer's position and said Venter's firing was not subject to the statutory rules that Dyer notes, but that it ultimately would be a decision from the state board or a Circuit Court judge.
Sandra H. French, the county board chairman, has said that she cannot comment on the subject because it could come before members on appeal, though Venter and Dyer have vowed not to bring any such action to them. She also has said that it is not board business at this point, but a matter "between the superintendent and his employees."
Venter said the board could have ended the case weeks ago if it had stepped in as he implored.
"It's a way to resolve this thing and put it behind everyone," Venter said. "I don't understand why the board can't grasp this situation."
Venter has said that O'Rourke dismissed him without notice Sept. 5 because construction of a county high school is behind schedule. O'Rourke has refused to comment on the subject.