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April 20, 2011

Getting What We Ask For

Norman M. Covert

Frederick County voters got what they asked for in a school board in November and a new Frederick County School Public Schools (FCPS) superintendant last week. The budget is no better off and North Frederick Elementary School still leaks.


It has been interesting theater with an all-star cast. Current Superintendant Dr. Linda Burgee has absorbed unremitting personal abuse. When it was her turn in the agenda, she told the board her goals have been met. As a consequence, they can have the job to do with as they will.


It won’t be difficult for her to enjoy retirement after June 30, 2011 – she likes a warm, sunny clime with beaches and leisure opportunities, and she won’t have to put the “mark of the beast” on her automobile.


Her retirement and the learning curve experienced by newly-elected board members seem to have eased the personal offensive. Dr. Burgee doesn’t expect to receive any apologies.


The appointment of Dr. Theresa R. Alban, of Howard County, MD, reveals the big picture realities school board newbies didn’t foresee. This is not intended as a criticism of Dr. Alban, who has great credentials; but she has never been a superintendant. She is chief operating officer for Howard County Public Schools. We find ourselves hoping Dr. Alban can step into the job and be successful.


We read the corporate school board spin on Dr. Alban’s hiring in the Daily Blather. There was no quote about school board members delivering on an election promise. Absent from the initial announcement was information on pay and benefits – and now we know why.


Elementary school arithmetic reveals the ballyhooed effort is a wash financially – a quest worthy of Cervantes’ Sancho Panza of windmill tilting fame in “Don Quixote.”


We’ll never know how many top-flight candidates did not apply for the job; or who may have answered the head hunter’s call and after looking at the whole picture, including a couple years worth of press clippings, said, “Not me!”


Can you blame them? There is a lot not to like about FCPS these days and it lies mostly in the storm clouds at Winchester Hall, the heavy hands of the new school board majority and the usual suspect, the Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA).


Were we lucky to hire Dr. Alban? FCPS today is not an opportunity for a successful school administrator wanting to move up. The career risks at FCPS transcend the positives. Smart candidates would find our school system among the nation’s elite. The county is an island of economic stability in Maryland; has more growth potential; a high quality of life; and education assets are available to help students achieve.


(Look at the “Fast Facts” page at  and you’ll see just what a good thing we have going here.)


Dr. Alban was given a contract in excess of her status as a first timer – $205,000 total salary and benefits package. She obviously wasn’t naïve and read the prevailing wage charts for superintendents.


Once shedding her interim title in 2004, Dr. Burgee proved the confidence in her selection. It has been a seven-year journey to reach the $201,811 base salary and $40,000 retirement package. She earned her contracted bonus money, too, an incentive denied Dr. Alban!


We are the victims of a bait and switch. The job sheet had to match what the market would bear. The first inklings of that came when the head hunters reported what it would take to hire a new superintendent. The board majority’s “ums” and “ers” started right away, and we saw obvious reluctance at the outset to even bring up the projected benefits package.


Dr. Elizabeth Morgan saw the handwriting on the wall when Washington County froze her superintendent’s salary at $182,905. She submitted her retirement papers shortly after signing a new contract last summer.


Dr. Burgee replaced Dr. Jack Dale, who saw the disarray of our county commissioners and in the elected school board. He also had a yen to achieve sophistication and power in Fairfax County, VA. His 2010 contract includes his $266,292 base salary, 26 days of vacation, maximum contributions to 403B and 457 retirement plans and annual salary increases matching the percentage given other education district employees. He won’t have to negotiate future raises.


Dr. Dale may use leave time for consulting work including speeches as part of his “intellectual growth.” He was also attracted by the Fairfax County retirement plan.


That’s where Dr. Burgee is headed – retirement. She will show Dr. Alban every courtesy in the transition, including sponsorship in The Rotary Club of Frederick.


I cannot imagine Dr. Burgee doing differently. Contrary to what you’ve heard, she is a lady.


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