The search for a new leader of Baltimore County schools appears rigged to favor interim Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, the education chairman of the Baltimore County NAACP charged yesterday.
The short list of leading candidates -- which includes two leaders of small school districts -- offers little competition to Dr. Marchione, said Bernetha George, vice president of the 500-member chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"Why, if they have a pool of candidates who seem to be better qualified than the ones they put out, why have they not been put on the list?" said Dr. George, whose local NAACP board and membership voted earlier this month to oppose Dr. Marchione's candidacy.
"I'd like to know what is up in Baltimore County," she said. "I'm livid about this."
School board members reached yesterday maintained their silence about the superintendent search, citing a promise of confidentiality to the 25 candidates who applied to lead the 102,000-student district.
JoAnn B. Manning, superintendent of the 7,660-student Chester Upland, Pa., school district near Philadelphia and Jeffery Grotsky, head of the 30,000-student district in Grand Rapids, Mich., have been interviewed along with Dr. Marchione, said school board members who requested anonymity.
Among the candidates not scheduled for interviews are a former deputy superintendent in Boston, a deputy state superintendent in Maryland, a former superintendent in Sacramento and an associate superintendent in Washington, D.C.
"To what extent did they interview top-notch people with good reputations?" asked Pat A. Medley, acting president of the 15-member Education Coalition of Organizations, an advocacy group for black students. The group is part of the Coalition of Concerned African-American Organizations, which has opposed Dr. Marchione.
"They said that there were more qualified candidates this time than the last time," Ms. Medley said. "Then you'd think they'd have more people to interview. I think they're setting up Marchione to get this job."
One school board member, speaking on condition of anonymity, agreed with the criticism.
The board "threw out a couple of people thinking it would be a cakewalk for Marchione," the board member said. "The whole process is a charade."
The member added: "It's bigger than the school system -- it's the county, the good-old-boy network, everyone in lock step. The whole thing is almost a conspiracy of silence. I've lost confidence in this board to make this decision."
But board member Sanford V. Teplitzky defended the search.
"The expression people use is whether it was wired. This process was not wired," he said. "The final decision will be made by 12 people who have been sworn in by the governor and have taken an oath to work in the best interest of the school system."
Asked whether he was confident that the people chosen for the short list were the most qualified of the 25 candidates, Mr. Teplitzky said he would not confirm the names published yesterday in The Sun. But he said, "The process has been fair. It has identified the most-qualified candidates and ultimately it will result in our choosing the most-qualified candidate."
Ray E. Suarez, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said he will check with teachers unions in Pennsylvania and Michigan on their relationships with the contenders. The county union has endorsed Dr. Marchione.
Dr. George, whose group has criticized Dr. Marchione's record on black student achievement, said she would ask the board to consider a wider range of candidates. She also said the process should be opened to public scrutiny -- particularly with the community still reeling from the controversial tenure of former Superintendent Stuart Berger.
Dr. Berger was chosen and dismissed under a shroud of secrecy; the board bought out his contract last summer for $300,000.
"Any resident who has lived in this community and paid taxes in this community and lived through this Dr. Berger fiasco deserves an explanation of what they're doing in the selection process," Dr. George said. "For them to now go into this secret huddle and bring out the kinds of things they're bringing out, it smacks of something unusually wrong, and I'd like to know what that is."
At the start of this search, the school board solicited comments from residents and groups about what qualities they want to see in a superintendent.