Female delegates defeat bill to axe 'CEO' title for Baltimore schools chief

What’s in a title? A lot more meaning than Del. Keith Haynes expected.

The Baltimore Democrat said Friday he is withdrawing his proposal to change the title of the city school’s chief — from “CEO” to “superintendent” — amid criticism from his colleagues that the shift appears sexist.

The seemingly mundane title change produced a heated exchange at the weekly meeting of Baltimore’s House delegation.

The title was changed from “superintendent” to “CEO” two decades ago amid a push for the beleaguered school system to conduct itself more like a business. But Haynes’s bill proposes to switch the title back to “superintendent” to place greater emphasis on academics.

He was supported by the city teachers’ union.

“Words matter,” Todd Reynolds, political coordinator for AFT-Maryland, said at the meeting.

The two men were quickly rebuked by female lawmakers who viewed the shift as sexist.

“I totally agree with you that words matter,” said Del. Brooke Lierman. “Having an awesome black woman be the CEO of our school system shows girls in our school system that they can aspire to be CEOs.”

Del. Maggie McIntosh suggested that Haynes might not have proposed the bill if a man was currently CEO of Baltimore’s school system, instead of Sonja Santelises, who took over for Gregory Thornton in July 2016.

McIntosh recalled watching the mostly male Baltimore City Council strip powers from former council President Mary Pat Clarke, who held the position from 1987 to 1995.

“She was a woman. That’s why it happened,” McIntosh said. “When a man became president of the City Council, guess what happened? They restored those powers. This, to me, is a similar or the same move.”

McIntosh added that the CEO title better reflects Santelises’ responsibility for school system finances, and it would be unwise to minimize that role.

“You ought to be ashamed, AFT,” she said to Reynolds, drawing gasps from those in attendance. “We expect our schools to have responsibility for the budget.”

Before testimony had even wrapped up on the bill, Del. Robbyn Lewis moved to vote it down.

“It would be my honor as co-sponsor of this bill,” Lewis said. Five other city delegates had also sponsored the bill. The city school system opposed it.

Haynes defended his proposal, but acknowledged the criticisms.

“This is not about an issue of gender or race,” he said. “Having understood that the message is muddled and the tenor and the flavor of the delegation doesn’t seem to be a will to do this, I’m going to simply withdraw the bill.

“I know how to read my jury,” he said.

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