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Cleveland Chief, Indicating Despondency Over Disputes, Kills Himself in a School

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Mr. Holliday, 58, was found last Monday by a student in the control tower of the vocational-technical school. The superintendent's .357 magnum pistol was found near his body; he had fired one shot into his heart at point-blank range.

Mr. Holliday had been despondent over public debate of his contract renewal and recent criticism of his administration. In a note to the citizens of Cleveland and the schoolchildren and administration of the district, he asked that his death be used by Clevelanders to rid themselves of "petty politics, racial politics, greed, hate, and corruption."

Touted as Superintendent

Mr. Holliday, a graduate of Temple and Harvard Universities, was touted upon his August 1982 selection as superintendent of the 77,000-pupil district. Many thought he would be able to solve the problems created during the battles over the administration of a desegregation plan, which was ordered by a federal court in 1976.

In his suicide note, Mr. Holliday said he thought the district had made considerable progress under his direction, but he noted that fighting among board members and petty politics was hurting both him and the school system.

"I have enjoyed until now being your superintendent," he wrote. "The fighting among school-board members and what petty politics is doing to the school system has sickened me."

"The events of the past few weeks makes my reporting to work meaningless," he continued. "There is a mindlessness that has nothing to do with the education of children and the welfare of the city. This hurts most of all."

Mr. Holliday enjoyed success and popularity in his career, which he began 35 years ago as an elementary-school teacher in Philadelphia. The superintendent came to Cleveland after seven years as head of schools in York, Pa., and one year as superintendent in Plainfield, N.J.

In 1980, Mr. Holliday turned down the Chicago superintendency because he felt, he said, that he would have lacked the full support of the board and Chicago's black community. In 1982, when he took the Cleveland post, he was a finalist for the Philadelphia superintendency.

Upon his arrival in Cleveland, Mr. Holliday dazzled community, corporate, and board leaders by eloquently outlining the school system's problems in a position paper.

Successes

Among Mr. Holliday's successes in Cleveland was the passage of a 9-mill levy in November 1983--the first time in 13 years that such a levy was approved--that generated $33 million annually for the system.

He also succeeded in receiving board support for an educational design that included full-day kindergarten programs, computers in the classroom, in-school suspension rooms, expanded vocational education, and grade restructuring to establish middle schools and four-year high schools. Although still await6ing final federal-court approval, much of that plan has been implemented.

District Problems

But it was Mr. Holliday's difficulty in addressing the age-old problems of attendance, dropouts, unions, transportation operations, desegregation, and what he termed an unwieldy and uncooperative bureaucracy that left both the superintendent and the public frustrated.

He was not able to make good on his promise to remove the federal court from district operations. And he was unable to prevent a January 1984 custodial sick-out that closed schools for several days.

Board Support Crumbled

And in 1984, Mr. Holliday's strong support from the board began to crumble. The Holliday administration came under fire over the renewal of two contracts that were not competitively bid, the hiring of a private management firm to run the bus operations, and the quick closing of three schools.

The superintendent's close association with Alva T. Bonda, former president of the board, led to greater disenchantment among other board members, particularly the three black members. They and parent groups demanded greater accountability from the administration.

Finally, Mr. Bonda's push in December for a 3- to 5-year contract extension for Mr. Holliday spurred a call for the superintendent to be ousted or be given, at best, a one-year contract extension. The week before he killed himself, Mr. Holliday had learned that the one-year extension was approved.

Mr. Holliday is survived by two daughters. His wife, who had been terminally ill with cancer, committed suicide in 1975.

Deputy Superintendent Seymour Freedman has been serving in Mr. Holliday's place since last week; the board will meet this week to appoint an interim superintendent and to discuss plans to begin a national search to fill the $80,000-a-year job.

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