Alonso critic set for panel

The Baltimore Sun

Mayor Sheila Dixon has named the president of the Baltimore City Council of PTAs to a panel interviewing candidates for the city school board, even though the council was recently stripped of its powers by its statewide parent organization.

The Maryland PTA penalized the Baltimore council last month after determining that its president, Eric White, had used his position as a platform to express his personal opinions. White has been a vocal critic of city schools chief Andres Alonso. The punitive action also resulted from the city group's failure to have a secretary or a treasurer and its inability to provide copies of its budget or meeting minutes, Maryland PTA officials said.

Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for Dixon, said that in spite of the Maryland PTA's action, White is still "a parent who's been involved in the city school system a long time. The mayor still believes he has some valuable insight interviewing school board members."

White no longer has children enrolled in the system, but Clifford said it's not unusual for parents to stay involved when their kids are grown, and the city would like to see more of that.

The nine-member school board is jointly appointed by the mayor and the governor, but Gov. Martin O'Malley is allowing Dixon to take the lead in screening and recommending candidates. The Sun reported Sunday that Dixon is potentially interested in taking back control of the school system, which was a city agency until 1997.

Three board members' terms expired July 1. Dixon only sought applicants for one of the seats, that occupied by Kalman "Buzzy" Hettleman. It appears that the other two board members, Robert Heck and Anirban Basu, are likely to be reappointed. Hettleman was still in the running for reappointment until yesterday, when he withdrew his application. Three candidates are under consideration to replace him.

Dixon appointed a panel to interview the candidates before she interviews them personally. Its seven members are the heads of the city's organized parent groups and unions, and several of them are critics of Alonso. To maintain his authority, Alonso needs the support of a five-member school board majority. Hettleman, Heck and Basu are all strong supporters of Alonso.

In addition to White, the panel members are: Marietta English, co-president of the Baltimore Teachers Union; Dennis Moulden, chairman of the Parent and Community Advisory Board; Theresa Bailey-Gwynn, a representative of the Special Education Community Advisory Council; Jimmy Gittings, president of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association; Brenda Clayburn, president of the City Union of Baltimore; and Glen Middleton, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 67.

During a dispute last fall over teachers' planning time, English led a rally calling for Alonso's ouster, which Middleton attended. Gittings has clashed publicly with the CEO over the elimination of central office jobs and added responsibilities for principals.

Clifford confirmed that only White, Bailey-Gwynn, English and Moulden attended interview sessions with candidates on Friday.

When a reporter asked White yesterday to comment, he replied in an e-mail: "Not interested! Do not contact me again under any circumstance."

Debbie Ritchie, president of the Maryland PTA, confirmed that the city's PTA council remains on inactive status.

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