Education

Cleveland Seeks New Superintendent, End to Court Case

By Peter Schmidt — March 25, 1992 5 min read
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The Cleveland Board of Education, dominated by four members elected in November on a reform slate, has moved to replace Superintendent Frank J. Huml and to negotiate an end to the district’s longstanding school-desegregation case.

The board voted this month to reassign Mr. Huml to another administrative position, and is expected early next month to consider a list of finalists for the superintendent’s post.

The board also has replaced its lawyers in the district’s desegregation case with a new team viewed as more likely to reach a settlement, and has made clear that it intends to shake up the district’s administration, trimming fat and appointments that appear to have been inspired by patronage.

“There is so much that has to be undone,’' said Carol S. Gibson, the executive director of the Cleveland Initiative for Education, a community organization. Last week, Ms. Gibson praised the board for making “a slow but clear start toward a future in which the system will be held accountable for student outcomes.’'

The board last week continued to be stalled by dissent, however, as two veteran members, James M. Carney Jr. and Gary J. Kucinich, opposed most of its actions and argued that the district should continue its fight in court to get out from under a federal desegregation order.

“I have never seen people who were such absolute puppets,’' Mr. Carney said of the reform slate, accusing them of acting at the whim of his political rival, Mayor Michael R. White, and members of the city’s business establishment who helped them get into office. (See Education Week, Oct. 23, 1991.)

Further tensions between board members appeared likely last week after Mr. Huml, who will remain in office until a successor is found, proposed a $457-million budget for next fiscal year that was more than 8 percent over anticipated revenues. The board had called for significant reductions in administrative spending and the closing of four elementary schools.

Huml Requests Reassignment

Still, in a city that is notorious for its fierce school-board politics, Mr. Huml is the first superintendent in several years to leave his post at the end of his contract, without resigning or being forced out.

Mr. Huml remained in charge last week, but a contract he signed with the board late last month calls for him to be reassigned on March 31 to the position of adviser for planning, policy, and operations and as liaison to the Ohio Department of Education.

Mr. Huml will continue to be paid at his current daily rate, or about $152,400 per year, and be given a 25-day annual vacation allotment. Under the terms of the contract, he will resign from the new position effective June 30, 1993.

In a brief letter sent to the board last month, Mr. Huml, who has served the Cleveland schools in some capacity for 29 years and has been superintendent since June 1990, asked that he be reassigned to another position “for personal and professional reasons.’'

A board-passed resolution commended Mr. Huml for “strong and consistent leadership’’ and credited him with bringing the 71,000-student district stability, peaceful labor relations, balanced budgets, and marked improvements in student performance and other areas.

Lawrence A. Lumpkin, the board’s new president, last week characterized the process of negotiating a new contract with Mr. Huml as having “its tense moments’’ but going smoothly over all.

Mr. Carney, however, last week maintained that Mr. Huml “did an excellent job and the way he has been treated has been a disgrace.’'

“Dropping him is ridiculous,’' Mr. Carney said, asserting that the board reassigned Mr. Huml because it wanted “someone flashy from out of town’’ and because the superintendent “didn’t spend enough time ‘brown nosing’'' the new board members or the political and business leaders who backed their campaign.

‘Fresh, New Vision’

Mr. Lumpkin said a search committee has been looking nationwide for someone to bring “a fresh, new vision’’ and “new and exciting ideas’’ to the district.

The board had considered seeking nontraditional candidates for the position, but the strongest of the two dozen candidates being considered by the committee all have traditional superintendent backgrounds, Mr. Lumpkin said.

Ms. Gibson, a co-chairman of the superintendent-search committee, last week said the new superintendent should be “someone who has articulated a belief system about poor kids being able to learn.’'

Mr. Carney, however, last week accused the search committee of valuing style over substance and made a prediction, denied by Ms. Gibson, that the candidates will be selected based on race.

An End to Busing?

One of the chief challenges facing the new superintendent will be getting the district out from under the desegregation order.

U.S. District Judge Frank J. Battisti this month announced that he was open to alternatives to busing for racial balance in the district, provided the new approaches are constitutional and improve education in the district.

“It should be clear that the court did not set out to run a busing company,’' Judge Battisti said.

But, the judge added, the school board during the past decade “displayed a recalcitrance and hostility’’ toward the court that prevented any progress in the case that could lead to a dialogue on the merits of busing.

The judge praised the new board for being open to negotiation, rather than litigation, and expressed a willingness to pursue a negotiated end to busing if the district has made significant progress toward overcoming segregation by Aug. 1.

Judge Battisti said he was lifting 534 of 606 orders issued in the case since 1976, most of which dealt with procedural or administrative matters, because they had been complied with or no longer were relevant.

The judge left intact the basic remedial order governing the district and called on the board to discuss ways to improve education, develop alternative student assignments, and eliminate the vestiges of past discrimination to the extent practicable.

Mr. Lumpkin said the board expects by the court deadline to submit a plan designed to reduce busing while maintaining racial balance and successful programs driven by the desegregation order.

A version of this article appeared in the March 25, 1992 edition of Education Week as Cleveland Seeks New Superintendent, End to Court Case

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