Hunter out


It is difficult to fathom the reasoning behind school Superintendent Richard C. Hunter's seeming determination to secure another three-year contract after his present term ends in July. Certainly Hunter's motivation is clear enough: He wants to keep his job. But why he believes he can do so despite Mayor Schmoke's expressed wish to the contrary is a mystery.

Technically the mayor does not have the power to hire or fire the school superintendent. He does, however, appoint the school board members who do have that power, and it's inconceivable the board would defy the mayor on such a matter. Hunter may have concluded -- erroneously -- that he had sufficient support among board members to override the mayor's objections, or that he could marshal enough community support to force Schmoke to back off. In either case he miscalculated badly, which is perhaps indicative of a striking naivete regarding how this city actually works.

Schmoke, for his part, was unusually blunt in his assessment of Hunter yesterday. He had asked the school board not to renew the superintendent's contract and, in effect, said that since he could no longer work with Hunter, he wanted him out as quickly as possible. So as a practical matter, Hunter's tenure here is already over. The only remaining question is whether he will go quietly or seek to stir up the kind of disturbance that Washington Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins created last month when he was fired amid raucous demonstrations.

However Hunter's departure comes about, it will not, of course, make it any easier to find a successor. Presently 18 major cities across the country are looking to hire schools chiefs, and most of them are considering the same short list of applicants. As The Evening Sun's Mike Bowler noted in an article in The Sun on Sunday, being a big city urban schools chief is a little like engaging in a game of musical chairs, with a relatively small number of qualified candidates moving from city to city and staying only as long as their welcome lasts.

The school board might more fruitfully concentrate its search among regional applicants, as has already been suggested, or even consider hiring a non-traditional candidate, perhaps someone from industry or government. The goal clearly ought to be to find someone who can bring long-term stability and continuity to the school system while overseeing needed reforms. That's a tall order, but now that it's what the mayor says he wants, the board needs to get cracking right away.

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