Ruling leaves PTA anxious

Leaders fear teachers at Centennial could leave

2 administrators reinstated

Union, instructors to meet in wake of board decision

Ellicott City

May 26, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

The Centennial High School PTA fears teachers might leave in protest after the school board exonerated two high-level administrators who had been demoted after they were accused of abusing their power at the Ellicott City school.

"We don't like what we think may happen because of their reinstatement," Doreen Cappelaere, PTA second vice president, said yesterday. "We don't know if there will be teachers leaving."

Cappelaere and First Vice President Kay Cooper, who said "no one understands the decision," plan to meet this afternoon to draft a letter opposing the board's ruling.

Centennial teachers and a county union representative also expressed concern about Friday's ruling, which overturned actions by former Superintendent John R. O'Rourke and contradicted recommendations by the hearing examiner, William J. Roberts of Montgomery County.

"The hearing officer ruled in favor of [O'Rourke's] position," said Leslie Stellman, the attorney who represented O'Rourke during appeals of the reassignments. "The board reversed that decision."

In February, O'Rourke demoted Deputy Superintendent Kimberly Statham to a teaching position and assigned Assistant Superintendent Roger Plunkett to a job as "administrator on special assignment" based on a $45,000 investigation into allegations the administrators used their positions to get preferential treatment for Statham's children, which both denied.

After reviewing testimony from the appeals, the board said the reassignments and allegations that led to them had no basis in fact and were illogical, leading it to unanimously reverse O'Rourke's decision. The former superintendent resigned from the school system at the board's urging three days after demoting his top administrators.

The conversation at Department of Education headquarters in Ellicott City, where the system administrators are stationed, has been one of general satisfaction with the school board decision, but peppered with questions, said Assistant Superintendent Robert Glascock.

"Overall, it's been very positive," Glascock said. "I feel the board has conducted a very extensive and thorough assessment based upon the study of the facts."

Board Chairman Courtney Watson -- who received e-mail late Monday calling the decision alternately "just" and "an embarrassment" -- acknowledged that everyone might not be on board with the panel's conclusion, particularly at Centennial.

"We don't expect it to be smooth sailing over there," Watson said.

In December, an anonymous letter written by someone claiming to be a teacher alleged Statham and Plunkett used their positions to pressure Centennial educators into altering the transcript of Statham's daughter. Statham's daughter and son transferred to a new school district after the allegations became public.

The letter also claimed that former Principal Lynda Mitic, who announced her retirement midschool year, left because of the supposed "unethical behavior of Kim Statham and Roger Plunkett," though Mitic has denied it.

Interim Principal Jennifer Peduzzi -- who did not respond to several messages seeking comment -- is filling in for the rest of the year, and Cappelaere worries no one will want the job permanently.

Howard County teachers union President Joe Staub said the board's decision sends a message that says "teachers are being treated by the system differently than administrators."

After another Howard County grade-tampering inquiry at Oakland Mills High School, O'Rourke recommended the school board fire Kenneth O. Hovet Jr., an athletic director, football coach and history teacher at the school.

Hovet is appealing the recommendation, but the school system gave the go-ahead this week to begin searching for his replacement, even though he has not officially been fired.

The positions held by Statham and Plunkett before their reassignments were held open pending the outcome of their appeals.

Staub said union staff members will meet with Centennial teachers tomorrow to discuss their concerns, particularly those associated with a portion of the board's appeal ruling that said testimony from a guidance counselor at the school was less credible than Plunkett's.

"I think the teachers who testified are credible, and I'm concerned that somebody would not accept their testimony as genuine," Staub said.

Watson and interim Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin met yesterday afternoon for more than an hour with Centennial staff members, some of whom Cousin described as "frustrated and concerned."

"The major concern was about the decision itself, and how it was [reached]," Cousin said.

He also met with Statham yesterday morning to discuss the decision, and will announce a reorganization by the end of the week that is to include positions for Statham and Plunkett.

"I just want everyone to recognize that the board has made a decision," Cousin said. "I'm going to implement that decision, and we're going to move forward from there."

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