School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey withdrew yesterday from the competition for New York City's top school job.
This was the second time in two years that he was tempted by New York's school chancellor post, with its $195,000 salary and 1,100 schools serving more than 1 million children.
This also was the second time he dropped out of the race while a finalist, citing his allegiance to Baltimore after confirming the support of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
New York's school board had scheduled an interview with Dr. Amprey for 6:30 p.m. yesterday, he said. Officials close to the search privately confirmed that Dr. Amprey was a finalist.
But about 11:30 a.m. yesterday, after a telephone conversation with Mr. Schmoke, Dr. Amprey called the consultant managing New York's search.
"I told John Farago I won't be coming, and he congratulated me and wished me well," he said. Mr. Schmoke's victory in this week's Democratic primary sealed his decision to stay, he said.
It helped that Mr. Schmoke this week publicly and privately reiterated his support of Dr. Amprey. Mr. Schmoke said their conversation yesterday focused on the continuing reorganization of the school system, which shifts power from the central office to school principals and school-improvement teams.
"I told Walter that I firmly believe in the 'enterprise' school concept and I thought that his leadership was necessary to help us fully implement that concept," Mr. Schmoke said. "There are many changes in the school system that have occurred in order to make school-based management effective, and I feel he is in the best position to work with our parents and teachers and administrators to implement those changes."
In August 1993, Dr. Amprey withdrew from the New York chancellor search as one of eight finalists; he later won a raise and an extended contract.
This time, he was among 11 finalists; his annual performance review is scheduled later this month.
Dr. Amprey is in his fifth year as superintendent, with a salary of $140,000 and a contract through 1998.
"What is important to me is, I'd like to think I'm doing a good enough job that someone wants me," Dr. Amprey said. "It's not about the money -- it's about being wanted."
Dr. Amprey said he sent his resume to New York at roughly the same time that Council President Mary Pat Clarke entered the mayor's race. She cited the superintendent's still unresolved $27 million budget shortfall and his resistance to management changes ordered by a federal court judge overseeing special-education reforms.
If Mrs. Clarke had won, he said, he would have gone to New York for the interview.
"If I was going to be canned by Mary Pat, then I should have at least had an opportunity to consider other jobs," Dr. Amprey said. "Maybe New York wouldn't have taken me, but it would make sense to have another job lined up."
Charles Maker, a school board member and longtime friend of Dr. Amprey, said New York also appealed to the superintendent. "It's . . . really a tough decision for him," Mr. Maker said.
Several board members said Dr. Amprey never seriously considered leaving: His family ties are in Baltimore. He also has a supportive school board appointed by the mayor and the freedom to experiment with privatization and other school reforms.
Others said the tension of the election season and critics' allegations of incompetence at North Avenue were taking a toll severe enough to make any school chief consider a move.
"He's always said that he's committed to Baltimore, but considering the pressure that he's endured, I would not be surprised if he considered another job," said school board member Lora Mayo.
Irene Dandridge, co-president of the Baltimore Teachers Union and a frequent critic of the school superintendent, declined to comment yesterday.