In a pleading letter to a top school administrator, Carroll County's seven high-school principals complain of low staff morale and echo teachers' fears that classrooms are being shortchanged.
The unusual letter, which calls for hiring more teachers, has raised concern among school board members and has sparked an examination of the relationship between administrators and school staffers.
"I've never seen a letter like it before," Board President Gary W. Bauer said. He was surprised that the authors -- who sent the board a copy of the letter -- decided to involve board members instead of dealing with their concerns internally.
Prompted by the letter, Bauer asked Superintendent William H. Hyde to determine whether communication problems exist between his administration and the school staff. Bauer noted that Hyde reshuffled many central office posts when he became superintendent last year.
"I've never heard of a letter coming from a particular group of employees with concerns they are expressing," Bauer said. "All of the board members are concerned with how communication is working since the reorganization."
The letter was written as the school system confronts several controversies, including a grand jury investigation into recent construction problems.
In incidents at Francis Scott Key High School, a sewage treatment plant was built without proper state permits and a neighbor's driveway was accidentally destroyed.
The letter, dated Nov. 16, was addressed to Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Dorothy Mangle. It was written in response to a routine request she made of staff to outline priorities for next year's budget.
Authors of the letter, which was obtained by The Sun, call for more teaching and clerical positions in their schools and more money for instructional materials, furniture and equipment in next year's budget.
"In the recent past, we have not felt that high school issues and concerns have been adequately addressed," the letter says. "Our system cannot continue such a path without some toll in student performance."
The letter also says the school system has focused too much attention in the past 18 months on programs that do not have a direct impact on students.
The principals wrote that they have received complaints from teachers who believe high school budgets are cut while money is allocated for positions in the school system's central office.
Mangle, however, said yesterday the principals might have mistaken a recent reshuffling of positions in the central office as an increase in administrative staff.
"When you make significant changes in an organization, it takes time for everyone to understand and appreciate," Mangle said.
The principals' letter complained of "a lot of initiatives which have had a very limited impact upon the classroom. In the time of budget crisis, we believe we need to make certain we are focusing financial resources at the school level."
"In these tight budgetary times, we, as principals, have found ourselves put in the position of defending that perception regarding a number of decisions," the letter said.
Those decisions, say the authors, "have truly resulted in a negative impact upon staff morale which is now lower than any of us can recall."
Mangle said yesterday that she and Hyde plan to attend a monthly meeting of high-school principals Thursday to discuss the letter. She said she found it "unusual" that a group of principals would write a letter jointly. But she said their budget requests were similar to those from all principals.
She said she plans to work to allay their concerns in the budget.
"They are seeing an increase in expenses and are having to stretch their dollars," Mangle said. "That to me is the essence of the letter, and it is not unique to the high schools."
The letter was signed by Sherri-Le Bream, Westminster High; Gary Dunkleberger, North Carroll High; David Booz, South Carroll High; Kate Engle, Carroll County Career and Technology Center; Randy Clark, Liberty High; George Phillips, Francis Scott Key High; and Robert Cullison, the Gateway School.
Cullison stressed that the letter was not meant to criticize, but to inform administrators of complaints principals have been hearing from teachers and parents and what their schools' needs are.
"I don't think the letter was written as a complaint," Cullison said. "I don't think the letter was written as a slam on the system."
Added Booz: "The intent of the letter was to give what we regard as honest feedback and input to those who are making the decisions regarding the budget, and all the pieces that go into it."