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Board of Education Approves Search Contract, Discusses Book Purchases

The board held its work session on Tuesday evening.

At its Tuesday work session, the officially began the search for its next superintendent.

The board approved a $60,000 contract with Illinois-based Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to launch a nationwide search to replace outgoing Schools Superintendent Joe Hairston,

The firm is no stranger to Baltimore County, having led the search that brought Hairston to the system in 2000.

The contract was awarded without a bidding process, as state law allows the school system to use contracts awarded by other jurisdictions as long as standard public bidding procedures were followed on the original contract.

"I am really pleased to say that they came highly recommended," said Valerie Roddy, the board's vice president, who added that other systems that used the firm reported they were pleased with its public engagement and the pool of candidates they received.

The money to fund the search was drawn from other parts of the school system's administrative budget.

Purchases under fire

The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing the fallout from a recent Baltimore Sun article, which reported the school system spent millions on outdated books.

Sonja Karwacki, executive director of liberal arts for the school system, told the board that mistakes were made while some school system officials were out of town or on vacation and teachers began work reviewing the system's language arts standards in 2009. According to the Sun, 177 teachers and staffers were paid a total of $577,000 to work on the new guidelines, despite state warnings that new standards were coming from the state.

"A simple revision of curriculum developed into a full rewrite of curriculum and things continued to go downhill from there," Karwacki said.

For the new curricula, the county spent  thousands on new novels, including A Tale of Two Cities, The Glass Menagerie and Mrs. Dalloway. Most of those novels are being used in classrooms, though administrators told the board that they are working with a publisher to exchange hundreds of extra copies of Mrs. Dalloway, the Virginia Woolf classic.

However, the updated version of the 27-year-old grammar textbook at the center of the textbook dispute is usable, according to school officials. Copies of that book, which had been held back due to a publisher error, are now being distributed to schools.

"Teachers didn't have sufficient resources at the secondary level to teach grammar, to teach writing," Karwacki said.

Karwacki told the board that in 2009 she received temporary signing authority from Barbara Dezmon, the then-assistant superintendent for equity and assurances, while Dezmon was out dealing with medical issues. Dezmon has since retired.

Dezmon attended the meeting and at one point stood to speak to the board, saying that the grammar book was "not new curriculum."

Asked why the assistant superintendent for equity and assurances was dealing with curriculum, Hairston told the board that he assigned her those duties.

After the meeting, Dezmon told Patch she felt scapegoated, and that the changes she intended to implement were unifying standards on what books students would read.

"If you have this curriculum, and you have these books that will fit into it, then why don't you fit in Catcher in the Rye?" she said.

When the teachers charged with revising the curriculum rewrote the curriculum, Dezmon said they selected books she would not have advised, like Mrs. Dalloway, to go with it.

Karwacki "assumed that everything was all right, she didn't look at the purchase, and she had no way of knowing they ordered what they were going to order," Dezmon said. "You had some people who were supposed to be running it and what happened was it all came loose."

Roger Plunkett, the system's chief of curriculum and instruction, told the board that he will authorize any future textbook purchases. Plunkett was not with the system in 2010 when the purchases took place.

Paul November 23, 2011 at 06:48 PM
$60K to search for a superintendent? How about we us that money to purchase some Amazon Kindle devices in lieu of text books and then students can have all their books and reading material on one device, instead of a bag full of books. With a special arrangement from Amazon, that should be able to purchase at least 1,500 of the devices. Then, let's actually start teaching our children. I don't accept the status quo. No child left behind is a political water cooler joke! Have you ever tried hiring employees before? If I get a resume, it is the most pitiful thing I have ever seen. America could be great again if the government would get out of the way. That's my 2 cents!
George W. Nellies November 24, 2011 at 04:15 AM
"Teachers didn't have sufficient resources at the secondary level to teach grammar, to teach writing," Karwacki said. Has she ever looked at a typical school English Department book inventory? Who is Karwacki kidding? Some BCPS officials were out of town on vacation, and so 177 teachers began to work on a new curriculum, despite state warnings to the contrary? Who's minding the store? Here's the simple reality: Joe Hairston gave carte blanche authority to Barbara Dezmon, who, contrary to the advice of MSDE, made ill-conceived and costly decisions for which she now claims to be a scapegoat. And don't try to tell her she was wrong or she, like Joe Hairston, will claim the criticism is racist. Both Hairston and Dezmon have personified the arrogance of power, and neither has acted in the best interests of the students of Baltimore County.
Mary Ellen Pease ChoiceBCPS.org November 24, 2011 at 04:47 PM
"Mistakes were made"… this is a familiar tune sung by those who refuse to accept responsibility for their mistakes. "Mistakes were made" and a lack of accountability will be an enduring legacy of Dr. Hairston's administration. And how can you have accountability when you have SIX superintendents of Curriculum and Instruction in SIX years? There must be a reason for this revolving door of administrators. This type of turnover creates waste and abuse of taxpayer funds. I'd like to see an investigative news story on why all these Curriculum and Instruction Superintendents leave so mysteriously? I bet that story would provide for some very interesting reading!
Buck Harmon November 26, 2011 at 09:11 PM
Well said Paul !
John November 27, 2011 at 03:22 PM
Nellies is quite accurate! And, even if resources were needed, do we really need to spend $350,000 for Little, Brown Handbook Grammar, 2.7 million for a 1980's edition of a grammar book in which students read about the popular show "Starsky and Hutch" and learn to use resources long replaced with 21st century technology, thousands and thousands of dollars paid to friends of the leadership team Karwacki-Dezmon to write grammar activities into AIM (another great debacle and waste), more money on a Giggly Guide to Grammar? Meanwhile real need is ignored to bow to the dictatorial and self-serving initiatives of a retired employee? Scapegoat, indeed! It was she who led this disgraceful waste while good people were forced out because they tried to do what is right! Why can't she just go away?

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