Superintendent is worth the money

May 14, 2006|by WAYNE RIDENOUR

Much has been written in the newspaper regarding the Washington County Board of Education's renewal of Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan's contract. In a free society, decisions should be questioned, and as an elected official I felt I should respond, not to the people who use anonymity to vent their personal hostility, but to those people who know me and wonder why I would support a new contract that some feel is excessive. So to answer simply, I must say, "why wouldn't I?"

The process for making the decision and awarding the contract was, I believe, well thought-out and researched by all the board members. The first question I asked myself during the process was, "Do we want to keep Dr. Morgan as superintendent?" The answer, "yes," was an easy one for me. Since her appointment, Morgan, teachers and other staff have made Herculean efforts to elevate the stature of the Washington County school system. These efforts, under her leadership, have led to the system being respected and recognized throughout the state.


Although I continue to rail against the staggering number of standardized tests required by the government, we must recognize that they are now a part of the national, educational culture, and something with which we must deal. That being said, under Morgan's leadership, achievement, overall, has seen consistent improvement. We are one of the few systems in the state to have all our schools achieve the federal standard of AYP (adequate yearly progress), which is no small feat. New programs to assist struggling students are being implemented and evaluated each year. Programs for advanced students that did not exist before are in place, being implemented or being considered. Since Morgan's arrival, many systemwide operations have been streamlined and made more efficient and strategic approaches are being used to deal with such things as the huge backlog of school maintenance issues that she inherited, along with an unanticipated surge in growth. The list of school system accomplishments under her leadership goes on.

Morgan is respected in the business community, and further it has been years since the system has had as strong a working relationship with the County Commissioners as we have now. This does not mean for a moment that Morgan and I do not disagree on some issues, but we have been able to civilly discuss them - in some instances we compromise, and in others we agree to disagree. To me, this is the sign of a strong, capable leader - one who is willing to address opposition and work through it to achieve the system's goals.

To answer the question regarding the scope of the superintendent's contract, I again have to go back to the original question and the one that would obviously follow. Since the answer was "yes" regarding the retaining of Morgan, what would it take to do so? We knew she was a free agent and upon investigating the market for experienced and successful superintendents, we realized there were systems along with us who would love to have her services and would be willing to pay far beyond what we could afford to give her.

I personally reviewed the contracts of a number of superintendents across Maryland to establish what was "usual and customary" pay and benefits. The contract that was eventually offered to Morgan is similar to those in surrounding areas or in systems that are very similar to Washington County's. To those who say the compensation is excessive, I don't believe I will change many of those minds with the above facts, but let us not forget that Morgan oversees a public corporation providing a service that impacts a very precious commodity, our children.

The efforts of this corporation will impact the current and future economic and social success of our community. Whom do we want guiding the ship, an experienced captain or a raw recruit, who, given today's marketplace for school superintendents, would command similar pay and benefits anyway?

Again, to those who have asked the question: "Wayne, why Dr. Morgan?" I can only offer, "Who else could match her proven leadership abilities and what would you pay him or her?"

Wayne D. Ridenour is a member of the Washington County School Board.

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