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School board's management style miffs teachers

July 02, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

One problem many people consider significant in Washington County public schools might be a relatively inexpensive one to fix.

Many believe the issue of micromanagement by school board members who get involved in the day-to-day control of county schools must be addressed, or risk scuttling most of the current efforts to improve education in the classrooms.

"If this governance issue doesn't get straightened out, (everything else) is all a moot point," said Carol Corwell-Martin, a teacher and curriculum director at Salem Avenue Elementary School.

Teachers and others familiar with the situation say this is what often happens: A parent who has a problem with his child's teacher, instead of dealing directly with the school or the central administration, goes to a school board member who has no problem getting involved in the matter.

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"That just doesn't wash with the classroom teacher," said Sharon Chirgott, president of the Washington County Teachers Association who has 23 years of classroom experience.

A study of the school system last year found that individual board members were perceived to intrude into the administrative areas of personnel and facilities management.

Another report commissioned by the school board this year also addressed the issue in part, calling for the schools superintendent to have clear authority over most personnel matters.

Tackling the micromanagement issue "has to be right up there with any improvement to the curriculum," said Janice T. Cirincione, who served on the school board from 1988 to 1996.

Like others interviewed for this story, Cirincione would not name names, but she said micromanagement has been taking place for years and is still a problem that can drain morale.

"Staff is constantly looking over their shoulder," Cirincione said.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said micromanagement is one issue that will have to be worked out among the five school board members without his involvement. But there is disagreement among the board members about whether there is even a problem to solve.

"That's a major issue that we've got to address," said school board member Edwin Hayes.

His solution: Let the educators do their jobs.

"They run the school system. We direct the superintendent," Hayes said.

One committee studying the school board's organization has recommended in a preliminary report that the superintendent be given authority to control day-to-day matters and seek board involvement when major decisions or policies need to be reviewed.

The school board, as a result, would operate more like a corporation's board of directors, which would "require a major change in focus by the elected Board of Education," the report said.

Another panel reviewing school board governance outlined in a preliminary report recommended responsibilities of the school board, emphasizing that the board has authority as a group, "and that individual board members have no independent authority."

"We're policy-makers. We're overseers. We're not to be involved in the day-to-day operation of the school system," said school board member Doris J. Nipps, a member of the governance committee.

But B. Marie Byers, a school board member since 1970, said the term "micromanagement" is misused and the issue "needs to be better explained."

Asked if she gets involved in individual school maters, Byers wouldn't name specific cases. Instead, she cited sections of Maryland law that give board members both executive and legislative authority.

"Does it mean you should shirk your responsibility and your sworn oath? . . . If you want to call that micromanaging, I disagree," Byers said.

School board member Andrew R. Humphreys also played down the micromanagement situation.

"I think we have done a fairly good job of working through the superintendent. Does that mean we don't have direct contact with the staff? No," he said.

Board President Robert L. Kline said micromanagement leads to "too many fingers in the soup" and usurps Bartlett's authority.

"We have to turn it completely over to him," Kline said.

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