Changes at St. Mary's protested Parents, teachers call restructuring harsh, unnecessary; President's job eliminated; Parish priest defends plan for director and board of trustees


An article in yesterday's Anne Arundel edition of The Sun incorrectly spelled the name of Kathleen Clarke Ruttum, a speaker at a hearing on the St. Mary's Parish school reorganization.

The Sun regrets the error.

About 350 parents, teachers and students at St. Mary's schools in Annapolis packed into a Senate hearing room last night to protest changes that they said are abrupt, unjustified and will harm the schools and their 1,500 students.

Opponents said a restructuring recommended by a Schools Committee Report was harsh and unnecessary to solve a simple communication problem between the high school and elementary school.

"I don't believe the recommendations in the report were supported by the facts in the report," said Joseph Devlin, an alumnus who has three children in the elementary school. "Both schools seem to be working very well."

Each school has had a principal and a school board with a dozen voting members. The high school also had a president, Jim Moorhead, who functioned as a kind of headmaster. The parish priest, the Rev. Thomas Siconolfi, had ultimate authority over both schools.

Under the new setup, a director, not yet hired, will have authority over both principals and will answer to a board of trustees. The seven trustees, chosen by Siconolfi, will answer to him.

Siconolfi defended his plan last night as a solution to the failure of the two existing boards to work together. He said that in the past, nothing got done when he met with Tim Lynch, the elementary school principal, and Moorhead. Moorhead's position is being eliminated.

"We would say, 'yes, yes, we are going to do this' and then we would meet again and one would say he thought the other one was going to do it, and who can I listen to when one says one thing and the other says something else?" Siconolfi said.

Although many of those who spoke last night agreed the two schools didn't communicate well, they were angry that they did not have any voice in the changes and didn't know they were coming.

Siconolfi said he had his first meeting with the seven-member board of trustees yesterday. He told those at the meeting that their concerns are "being heard," then left the meeting after listening to a few comments. Dozens of people signed up to speak, and every seat was taken in the room, leaving many people to stand in the hallways and crowd around the doors.

"How are we being heard if you are leaving?" one woman shouted.

Parent David Tengwall said, "The communication problem, I'm sorry, Father, is at the top. If you don't have time to do the administrative work, then you should ask the archdiocese to send someone to the school to do the work that you can't do."

Friday, 40 faculty members sent a letter opposing the restructuring and asking the archdiocese to intercede. A dozen parents also wrote protesting the change. Bishop William C. Newman, the eastern vicar for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, and Dr. Ronald Valenti, the superintendent of schools, met with Siconolfi about the schools Friday.

Last night, Nancy Duden, president of the high school board, and other board members suggested a board of trustees made up of some current board members and those Siconolfi appointed.

"If we are going to get a board of trustees that is going to make decisions about our school, students and teachers, then why can't we vote for them?" said Karen Clark-Rudham, a drama teacher.

Pub Date: 5/14/98

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