Baltimore school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's ambitious reorganization plan is mired in a dispute over just what role the state will play in the hiring of new principals and other top local school officials.
Representatives of Maryland's schools superintendent and the Maryland Disability Law Center -- part of a court-ordered team given oversight of high-level city school appointments -- recently began interviewing several of Dr. Amprey's appointees.
Dr. Amprey, the third member of the team, said their action interfered with his ability to run the 113,000-student school district. He fumed as Mark Mlawer of the law center, who was designated by Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, talked to five Amprey nominees at the city's North Avenue school headquarters Wednesday.
"This won't happen to the rest of our appointees," Dr. Amprey said. "The court gave the oversight team the power to review, not to interview." Among those interviewed was Dr. Amprey's choice as principal of troubled Patterson High School in East Baltimore, Bonnie Erickson.
The team was created in April by U.S. District Judge Alexander Harvey II to assure compliance with a court order in a decade-old lawsuit brought by the law center over the city's consistent failure to provide required services to thousands of special education students.
Dr. Amprey retains authority over personnel decisions above the level of teacher, but they do not take effect until 10 days after the review team is notified. During that time, any team member can ask the court to review a proposed decision.
In effect, that gives the state superintendent unprecedented influence over the personnel decisions of a local superintendent.
Dr. Amprey and Dr. Grasmick have been increasingly at odds in recent months. Dr. Grasmick has moved to reorganize Patterson High and West Baltimore's Douglass High. She has aggressively pursued the special education order and has supported the American Federation of Teachers in a complaint that the nine privately operated "Tesseract" schools in Baltimore fail to comply with federal procedures for educating disabled students.
Dr. Amprey said he would appeal to Judge Harvey if the other members of the review team persisted in interviewing employees he is shifting in his administrative reorganization.
Dr. Grasmick and Mr. Mlawer said yesterday that they hope peace can be restored, adding that it might be necessary to ask the judge for a clarification.
This week's 16 nominations were approved by the school board's personnel committee Tuesday but need full board approval when that body returns in September.
Ms. Erickson would move to Patterson from Harlem Park Middle School, where she is assistant principal. Patterson is one of two failing city high schools that have been threatened with state takeover. After an abortive proposal to give control of the school to a private Maine school, officials now plan to split it into four "academies" specializing in humanities, fine arts, technical education and career preparation.
Dr. Amprey also named two area assistant superintendents, Ellen D. Gonzales and Christolyne M. Buie, and appointed Ian Cohen, principal of Chinquapin Middle School, director (or principal) of the Polytechnic Institute.
Mr. Cohen, a Baltimore native, a math teacher and a former assistant principal at Western High School, replaces Albert W. Strickland, who resigned. He is the fifth Poly principal since 1980, after a span of six decades with three principals.