Parents back curbs on transfers


Parents and teachers last night supported proposed legislation that would establish new procedures for transferring school employees, saying the superintendent currently has too much power to order transfers without sufficient explanation.

But Howard County school board member Susan Cook opposed the bill sponsored by state Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, R-14, saying that current policy works well and that a law that restricts the superintendent's ability to manage personnel would be detrimental to the school system.

About 35 people attended a two-hour public hearing at the county government building in Ellicott City that was sponsored by Howard's General Assembly delegation. Several teachers told how the involuntary transfers adversely affected them and their students. Supporters of the bill said the current policy lacks accountability to employees and parents.

Mr. McCabe introduced the bill in response to an outcry over School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's decision, announced in June, to transfer involuntarily more than 60 teachers and administrators, including all the principals and assistant principals at Mount Hebron and Centennial high schools.

The proposed measure would prohibit the superintendent from transferring a school's entire administrative staff -- principals and vice principals -- from one school to another.

For any transfer of more than 50 percent of a school's administrators, the bill would require the superintendent to submit information to the school board, including justifications, and provide written notice to the appropriate PTA at least 60 days before the transfer is implemented.

Dr. Hickey, who did not attend the hearing, has said he believes the legislation is unnecessary and that state legislators should not be involved in "micro-managing a school decision."

James Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, bargaining agent for teachers and other school personnel, asked that the bill be amended to include teachers and support personnel. He said legislation is needed to "protect employees from personal and professional harm."

Under the bill, the school board would be required to conduct a public hearing on a transfer if the local PTA requests one.

The bill also states that transfers would not be subject to school board approval, the same as current policy.

Teachers said they have become reticent out of fear that they will be involuntarily transferred in retribution.

"If we think we need to say something to make a change for the better, nobody is going to say anything. It's getting very complacent," said Gloriann Mehlman, an English teacher who was transferred from Centennial High School.

Parents said they are frustrated by what they perceive as an inability to influence school personnel decisions affecting their children. "We don't have a forum for communication and to receive answers," said Marianne Hollerbach. "In effect, we feel we have no influence on what's happening."

Mr. McCabe said the bill is intended to foster "respect for the school community and the interests of parents."

Ms. Cook said a committee, headed by Dr. Hickey and including teachers, has been formed to evaluate transfer procedures and recommend improvements.

"It should remain a negotiating item between [the union] and the Board of Education," she said.

Ms. Cook and James Kraft, a candidate for the House of Delegates, questioned the value of allowing a PTA to request a public hearing, emphasizing that the school board doesn't have the authority to change the superintendent's decisions on transfers.

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