Twenty-two Baltimore schools will open Monday without permanent principals in place, continuing the unprecedented turnover under Andrés Alonso — moves that the administrators union says reflect "vindictive" and "capricious" decisions by the schools chief.

The union's president, Jimmy Gittings, said Alonso demoted 15 principals, including four whose schools are being investigated for possible cheating on state tests. He said two of the four were placed back in the classroom as teachers after an investigation turned up no evidence.

The majority of the principals were demoted — despite satisfactory evaluations — because test scores dropped in their schools, according to Gittings. He said that contradicted Alonso's statement last week that he didn't want principals' work to be about test scores.

The union "is standing with its members and protesting Dr. Alonso's arbitrary and capricious actions," Gittings wrote in a memo, obtained by The Baltimore Sun, to members of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association.

"It is particularly disturbing that principals who received satisfactory ratings on their evaluations are being demoted. His arbitrary actions make a mockery of our evaluation process."

In an email response to The Sun, Alonso maintained that his decisions to place principals in different positions, such as assistant principals and teachers, are based on a variety of factors, including events that transpired in the school over the year and school data. He also said he doesn't discuss personnel cases.

"It is the job of [the union] to protect its member's personnel interests, no matter the circumstances involved," he said. "I respect the role of the union in the process. But the decisions about leadership are mine."

He said that 22 schools don't have permanent principals because results of the Maryland School Assessments came back late and it is hard to get community input — a key element of the district's appointment process — over the summer. He also said the system received late resignations and retirements.

The school system didn't want to make decisions "until we had all available information to determine what was best for the school and the district," he said.

Alonso has made dramatic changes in school leadership since he took over the school system in 2008, with more than 90 percent of principals removed or reassigned.

According to a presentation at the system's most recent school board meeting, there were 56 new leadership appointments for the school year.

But the union's protest builds on tensions that have brewed in recent months when it made public its fight against Alonso's decision to fire the principal and assistant principal at Abbottston Elementary over alleged cheating. Two independent hearing officers hired by the city's school board ruled that there was no evidence cheating took place and recommended that they be reinstated.

The city school board, which Gittings said received a letter from the union's attorneys protesting the recent demotions, will decide next week whether to accept or reject the hearing officers' decisions.

Neil Duke, president of the city school board, said he also could not comment on personnel matters.

"Per usual, protests regarding personnel actions will be handled in due course consistent with policies and practices," Duke said in a statement. "At this time, the energies of the district are necessarily focused on ensuring that our schools are ready and prepared to receive our students for another exciting new school year."

Last week, Alonso and Gittings faced off at the annual "State of the Schools" presentation. The usually amicable event, designed to welcome back administrators, turned into a back-and-forth between the two leaders about principal pressures.

Gittings told hundreds of administrators at the event that he believed they were unfairly chastised and punished, no matter in what direction their test scores moved. He urged them to document their attempts to receive more support from central office supervisors.

Alonso said the accountability measures he has implemented — principals are usually fired after two to three years of stalled or declining test scores — would stay in place as long as he leads the district.

Gittings said that four of the principals demoted this year were from some of the 16 schools that Alonso said he was investigating after their 2011 MSA scores raised red flags.

Those four principals, Gittings said, were moved into teaching positions. Two of them, he said, were demoted the night after his speech to administrators, which he considered a "vindictive" measure because he spoke out.

Alonso eventually had to reinstate those two principals after the union protested that it was illegal to demote principals when they're on family medical leave, Gittings said.

Gittings wrote to principals: "Fortunately, I have factual evidence that no [cheating] violations took place in two of the cases."

Alonso declined to name the schools under investigation but said it would be "extraordinarily wrong to assume that every reassigned principal or administrator has been reassigned because of prior allegations of cheating at a school. That is not only factually wrong, but a huge injustice to people who have been reassigned this year."

In his memo, Gittings told administrators that there were more than 100 retired principals mobilizing to fight "unjust actions taken against our fellow colleagues."

Retirees confirmed that they planned to start by flooding city schools headquarters with a letter-writing campaign.

Yetty Goodin, who retired in 2009 as a principal of Garrett Heights Elementary/Middle after leading the school for 17 years, said the recent actions against principals are familiar.

"We can relate because we were in the same position and received the same pressure to perform," she added. "We've been in that place where our evaluation as principals and instructional leaders was that we had to get our scores up — or else."

erica.green@baltsun.com