Smith's exit puts board in a bind

Arundel school officials to meet on replacing chief

`Who will be in charge Nov. 24?'

September 08, 2005|By Anica Butler and Liz F. Kay | Anica Butler and Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County school board members plan to meet this week to determine who will manage the school system after Superintendent Eric J. Smith leaves in November, the board president said yesterday.

At its regular meeting yesterday, some board members and parents expressed concern about Smith's departure and wondered what the board's next move will be.

"Who will be in charge Nov. 24?" PTA Council President Debbie Ritchie asked the board.

Smith announced Tuesday that he had accepted a position at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. His last day as superintendent will be Nov. 23, four months before school board members were scheduled to consider extending his contract.

The nationally known educator will become a visiting "superintendent in residence" at the graduate school during the current school year, working with the Urban Superintendents Academy and other programs, Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn wrote yesterday in an e-mail. He also said that the one-year position is unpaid.

However, Smith said yesterday that the salary is still "being worked out." The job also leaves time for "a significant amount of consulting," Smith said.

Though school board members said they learned only Monday night of Smith's departure, Smith has said that he told school board President Konrad M. Wayson and board attorney P. Tyson Bennett on Aug. 23 of his intention to resign and that he never heard back from them. Smith had recently entered the fourth and final year of his contract and had publicly indicated he planned to stay.

A clause in Smith's contract requires him to give at least three months' notice of a resignation, or pay the board $10,000 for each month or portion of a month that is less than that.

When asked yesterday whether there had been any discussion about whether he would be asked to pay the penalty, Smith reiterated that he gave three month's notice, but did not elaborate.

Smith has been credited with boosting academic performance on standardized tests, including among groups of children who have historically scored below standards.

Smith said in a written statement Tuesday that he was "tremendously gratified with the work that we have accomplished" but that public disputes had created distractions from what he was hired to do.

School board members recently criticized Smith after an internal audit of human resources revealed missing records, including proof of criminal background checks, and inconsistent compensation policies.

Teachers union leaders, responding to complaints about an increasing workload, lagging pay and Smith's management style, had scheduled a meeting for last night to consider calling for a vote of no confidence in the superintendent.

During the board meeting, Ritchie also asked whether the board planned to conduct a nationwide search and, if so, how much it would cost.

There have been major changes during the last three years, she said, and she wondered whether that would happen again with a new superintendent. However, board members didn't know yesterday what steps they would take.

"As of [Tuesday], we still thought the situation was salvageable and that we wouldn't be in the position we are today," said Paul G. Rudolph, the only member remaining from the school board that hired Smith. "Because of that, it's still up in the air."

Some board members want Smith to serve out the remainder of his contract.

"Thank God you came here. ... It's my position you still have an obligation to us until the end of June," said board member Michael G. Leahy, who said he was addressing Smith "as a parent."

Rudolph said: "Ditto to Mr. Leahy's remarks. I definitely feel Dr. Smith should stay the course."

The school system is one of Anne Arundel's largest employers, with a $725 million operating budget and more than 10,000 employees to educate more than 74,000 children.

In 2002, the school board spent $35,000 plus expenses to hire a search firm to match them with Smith, then the schools superintendent in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.; he was drawn here with a salary and benefits package of about $300,000 a year. His base salary last year reached nearly $203,000.

About 42 percent of school districts with 25,000 or more students promoted an employee internally to the superintendent position, according to a 2000 study commissioned by the American Association of School Administrators.

But it's unclear who might be eligible or interested in the job. During the last school year, six of Smith's top administrators retired or took positions elsewhere, including Deputy Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson. He was considered a candidate after Carol S. Parham retired in 2002, but the board hired Smith instead.

Bill Wise, the former assistant superintendent for facilities planning, construction and management, has been serving as interim assistant superintendent of instruction and curriculum after Nancy M. Mann retired last May. Wise retired as superintendent of Nashville, Tenn., schools in 2001.

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