Austin, Copeland's staff chief, leaving the city school system

June 22, 2006|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

The chief of staff of Baltimore's school system is quitting his $143,000-a-year post effective July 14, leaving another top position vacant as Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland prepares to step down.

Douglass Austin, 42, a former city deputy housing commissioner, has been Copeland's chief of staff since July. Austin said yesterday he is resigning to spend more time with his family, and his resignation has nothing to do with Monday's announcement that Copeland will leave July 1 under a mutual agreement with the school board.

As Copeland turns the reins of the system over to interim CEO Charlene Cooper Boston, several top officials are vacating their positions. Three of the four deputy positions under the CEO -- chief of staff, chief operating officer and chief financial officer -- are now experiencing turnover.

Chief Operating Officer Eric Letsinger was fired last month after questions over whether he tried to use public funds for a fishing trip. Last week, the school board hired Keith Scroggins, an official from the city Department of Public Works, to temporarily fill the position.

The board hired John Walker last month as chief financial officer, but system officials have not said whether he will continue in the job after the killing of his son May 26.

More resignations among senior administrators are expected. System officials would not comment on the status of Frank DeStefano, deputy chief academic officer; Thomas Kim, special assistant to the chief operating officer; and Alexandra Hughes, assistant to the CEO.

Austin, Letsinger, Kim and Hughes were all rising stars in Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration sent to the school system in recent years to implement major reforms. But the system has been mired in turmoil, punctuated with Letsinger's firing.

DeStefano, who worked with Copeland previously at the nonprofit Fund for Educational Excellence, was hired in 2003 despite a controversial background as a superintendent in Brooklyn, N.Y. Several school system employees say he told them he plans to resign.

Austin said he is looking for a job "that is not as all-consuming as this one is" after the near-death of his 11-year-old daughter in March. He is a longtime friend of Letsinger, who also served as a deputy housing commissioner before coming to the school system. Kim and Hughes also have close ties to Letsinger.

System spokeswoman Edie House referred a request for comment to Copeland, who could not be reached yesterday. A spokeswoman for O'Malley declined to comment.sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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