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Bill would give boards some right to fire superintendents

February 11, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Local school boards in Maryland would be able to fire superintendents in the last four months of their contracts without going through state officials under a bill proposed by a Howard County lawmaker.

Currently, local boards of education do not have authority to remove their superintendents. The state superintendent of schools may remove a superintendent for immorality, misconduct in office, insubordination, incompetence or willful neglect of duty.

Del. Frank S. Turner, D-Howard, sponsored the bill because of strife that resulted last year when the Howard County Board of Education sought to dismiss its superintendent, but he initially refused to leave. During a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee, Turner quoted the former superintendent as saying, "it's my contract and I own it; I am not going to be forced out."

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The bill has 21 House co-sponsors.

Turner explained that the bill does not allow school boards to dismiss a superintendent at any time during his or her contract, only after the date when the board must tell the superintendent whether it intends to renew the contract.

"We want to make sure we don't have any disruption for the last four months if they're not going to renew," Turner said. "The superintendent would be paid for the last four months of the contract."

Courtney Watson, chairman of the Howard County board, told the committee that dismissing a schools superintendent simply would be an option for local school boards.

Board attorney Judith Bresler said contention between school boards and superintendents on their way out "can be very damaging." Many contracts aren't valid without the superintendent's signature, she said, and the superintendent has authority to transfer and assign staff.

Attempts to have the state superintendent dismiss the local superintendent "makes a contentious relationship even more contentious," she said.

The state Board of Education ruled three years ago that a local board could not negotiate an early termination with a superintendent in a Prince George's County case. Boards may not put a superintendent on administrative leave, Bresler said.

"This bill provides an option in a situation where currently there is no option," she said.

Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, clarified that local boards can't ever fire a superintendent, at any time during a contract. "The bill does not go far enough," he said.

Watson replied that the bill intentionally was drafted with limits so that it would win approval. Supporters, she said, were afraid that granting local boards more authority would hurt its chances of passage.

Even so, the bill was not without its detractors.

"We believe this is not a necessary bill," said James Lupis, executive director of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland.

He said the bill would deny due process to superintendents and predicted there would be litigation over compensation, should a school board opt to dismiss a superintendent.

Additionally, he said, "it could result in the end of a highly successful career."

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