In a surprise move, the Baltimore County school board last night chose Catonsville Community College Professor Paul S. Cunningham as its new president.
He replaces Allan M. Leberknight, who voluntarily stepped down after one year.
Mr. Cunningham, who represents the county's 12th Legislative District on the board, is awaiting reappointment by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. His first term on the board expired July 1.
His re-appointment is not necessarily assured because the governor may appoint whomever he wants.
Mr. Leberknight said he had decided "in the last few days not to stand for re-election."
The soft-spoken Mr. Leberknight took over the board a year ago amid controversy over changes within the school system. He immediately appointed an independent task force to investigate those controversies and tried to bring calm and to restore the public's trust in the board.
As he took over last night's meeting, Mr. Cunningham said, "As you might gather, this has come up quite quickly. I want to thank my colleagues for this vote of confidence."
Mr. Cunningham was appointed to the county school board by the governor in July 1989. He has a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University and has 25 years of teaching experience, including stints in the West Virginia and Ohio public school systems.
He vowed to continue the work of the board for the good of the students.
Mr. Leberknight is president of the Bank of Baltimore, which is being sold to First Fidelity Bancorp.of Lawrenceville, N.J., for $346 million in cash.
"As you know, the bank at which I work is going through an acquisition, and that's taking all my time," Mr. Leberknight told his school board colleagues. The Baltimore Bancorp deal was a large financial maneuver in March. The 42-branch company, which has $2.2 billion in assets, has gone through a three-year struggle to survive a bitter management fight and large real estate-related losses, before returning to profitability in 1992 and 1993.
Mr. Leberknight was elected president of the Baltimore County school board July 6, 1993. He formerly taught five years at Overlea High School, where he coached baseball and football. He began his banking career after leaving teaching.
In other school board action last night, Calvin Disney was reelected as the board's vice president.
Also last night, board members asked school officials to study further the proposed changes in the expulsion policy.
Superintendent Stuart Berger's staff recommended that students who bring weapons to school or who hit teachers be expelled rather than be transferred to alternative schools for disruptive youths.
In nearly an hour of discussion, the board debated the changes and disagreed among themselves over whether the policy best served the students, or was being implemented mainly to make room in the alternative schools.