tim rowland - 3/10/01

March 09, 2001

Bartlett, Munson each serve own brand of baloney

When people ask how many people read this column I always answer "a couple hundred thousand. Minimum."

Well? It's possible. For every paper sold three or four people look at it. Then there's the Web, and who can tell how many people call up a column, print it out and pass it around.

Or look at it another way, when I say "a couple hundred thousand" I could mean over the course of a month - after all, no one specified a time frame.

That brings us to Washington County Schools Superintendent Herman Bartlett, who apparently did some creative statistical juggling on a job resume he submitted to a school system in Tennessee.


Bartlett listed the number of students in the Washington County school system as 21,000. Current enrollment is 19,411.

He listed the school system's budget as $150 million. It's publically advertised budget is $118.4 million.

He listed his salary as $129,000. It's actually $105,000.

The superintendent can make some justification of these numbers, just as I can "justify" hundreds of thousands of readers. To his credit, Bartlett has not accepted a pay raise since he came here in 1997.

Maybe if you total up what he theoretically could have received in raises, plus the cash value of his benefits package, plus the income he generates from maybe having a shoe-repair business on the side - perhaps altogether that adds up to something approaching $129,000.

Targeted funds that the locals have no control over, plus capital spending, bring the schools' budget within $5 million of Bartlett's figures.

But as a normal person would view it, the plain fact of the matter remains that he overstated the number of kids in the system by 1,589, his salary by $24,000 and the board's operating budget by $31.6 million.

Of course none of this information speaks to Bartlett's qualifications as a superintendent. He certainly has his defenders who believe that, while somewhat of a poor communicator and prone to abrasiveness on the surface, he has a big heart and steadfastly drives for what he believes is in the best interests of the children.

But no matter what his assets may be, if you are a school board doing the hiring, the revelation that Bartlett apparently has some serious hedging problems is just good information to have.

And the Williamson County, Tenn. school board has this information. It may determine his resume padding irrelevant, but at least they have all the facts.

Why? Because Tennessee law considers all information that reaches the school board - including job semi-finalists - as open for public inspection.

Maryland has no such law, and the local school board has a terrible record of letting the public in on what it's up to.

It's pretty plain the board is not smitten with Bartlett, and for that the board has no one but itself to blame. When searching for a superintendent to replace Wayne Gersen, the board shrouded it's final candidates in airtight secrecy.

The day it announced Bartlett's hiring, a friend of mine who worked for a newspaper in Roanoke, Va., called and said "What are you guys doing? Don't you know his contract down here wasn't renewed?"

Well, I didn't know and worse, the Washington County School Board didn't know either.

Had the school board released a list of, say four semi-finalists, the newspaper would have done some checking, the business community would have asked around and the truth would have come out. Perhaps the board would have chosen Bartlett anyway, but at least it would have done so armed with the knowledge that he had run into some serious difficulties in his last job.

It's just something to keep in mind next time the board tells us its hiring practices are none of our business.

On the topic of doublespeak, Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, was quoted in a news article saying he would not become involved in the Md. 63/68 truckstop fight because he did not like to stick his nose into county and local issues.

Subsequently, it was pointed out that this wasn't a particularly good excuse on his part, because Munson has a track record a mile long of sticking his nose into county and local issues.

So Munson revised his statement. What he meant to say, he wrote in a Feb. 26 letter to the editor, was that he didn't like to get involved in "local zoning issues."

Oh? Munson may want to try again.

Because in July of last year Munson became plenty involved in a zoning case that concerned a proposed cell phone tower in Boonsboro. At the zoning hearing, according to The Herald-Mail "Delegate Chris Shank, R-Washington, Sen. Donald Munson, R-Washington, the Harpers Ferry Conservancy's executive director and some local residents spoke against the tower proposal, saying it is both a visual blight and a bad site, being near both the trail and the South Mountain Battlefield."

The bottom line is that Munson is happy to become involved in a local issue the instant he perceives it will benefit Munson, either in terms of votes, public opinion or campaign contributions. The cell phone developers weren't local so he had nothing to lose. The truck stop is being developed by a powerful local businessman whom Munson is apparently afraid of offending.

That's it. It has nothing to do with some deep, philosophical "state issues versus local issues" policy matters. If residents keep after him and demonstrate he will lose a large block of votes if he fails to act, Munson will find a reason to become involved in this "local zoning issue." Count on it.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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