Request for schools' plans was innocent, Smith says


In an unusual move, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. sent a letter to all 162 public school principals saying he didn't intend to burden them when he asked Superintendent Joe A. Hairston for school plans this month.

Smith's budget-planning request angered principals because they were forced to round up and then copy hundreds of pages of reports and letters within two days.

"It was not my intention to burden principals or any instructional staff," Smith said in the one-page letter addressed to Hairston and dated March 20.

He called the episode a "misunderstanding" and thanked the principals for their effort.

Smith said he asked for the documents partly to become better informed about the school system's needs.

"Second," he wrote, "I need to understand fully the justifications for any new initiatives because the increasingly bleak fiscal situation in Annapolis may create a very tight County budget."

In the budget request, principals are asking the county to spend an extra $400,000 next fiscal year to place them on a salary scale, which would give them pay raises based on experience.

Principals could not recall receiving any other letters from the county executive.

They were forced to cancel classroom observations and other duties after school officials told them to copy school improvement plans and papers showing implementation of those plans.

Smith asked Hairston for the records, but the superintendent said principals should supply them since they concerned their schools. The Association of Elementary School Administrators in Baltimore County sent Hairston a letter complaining they weren't told what specific records to provide.

"That made it difficult for us because basically we were shooting in the dark - we didn't know what information he was shooting for," said John Desmone, president of AESA who is the principal of Timonium Elementary School. Some principals said they copied hundreds of pages.

But Desmone said principals "didn't mind" supplying the information because it could help secure full funding of the school sytem's budget request.

Catherine P. Walrod, principal at Hereford Middle School and president of the Secondary School Administrators, said it was nice that Smith sent the letter. "I don't think it was either his or the superintendent's intent to burden anyone, and I didn't think it was the end of the world either," she said.

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