Edward M. Felegy, Prince George’s school administrator, dies at 76

Edward M. Felegy, a veteran Prince George’s County public schools administrator who served as superintendent in the early 1990s, a period marked by financial crisis, low student test scores and tensions over court-ordered busing, died March 30 at his home in Alexandria. He was 76.

The cause was renal cell carcinoma and multiple myeloma, said a sister, Janet Tranter.

Starting in 1958, Mr. Felegy spent 37 years working for Prince George’s County Public Schools. He began his career teaching at Seat Pleasant Elementary School in Capitol Heights, Md., but soon moved into administration and rose through the ranks to principal and deputy school superintendent.

The county school board named Mr. Felegy superintendent in 1991 on a 5-to-4 vote that reflected sharp divisions in the community over race and the board’s less-than-transparent selection process. Mr. Felegy was white, and black student enrollment was around 65 percent at the time; he was the county’s last white superintendent until John E. Deasy’s election in 2006.

The first two years of Mr. Felegy’s term were overshadowed by a countywide financial crisis that drained $25.7 million from the county’s $575 million budget. Mr. Felegy was praised for how he handled recession-related school budget problems, methodically distributing unpopular spending cuts to avoid teacher layoffs and to restrict the impact on classrooms. He also worked to protect arts education programs.

Edward M. Felegy in June 1991. (Dayna Smith/The Washington Post)

“We had a lot of budget turmoil during that period and he used a common-sense approach,” former school board member and chairman Marcy C. Canavan told The Washington Post last week.

Mr. Felegy focused on improving student performance in math and science and recruiting more minority educators. “I want a realistic agenda in math and science and communication skills, the type of meat-and-potatoes things that aren’t flashy but are so critical to everything we do,” he told The Post in 1991.

He drew criticism for the county’s falling student test scores. In 1994, Prince George’s students’ standardized tests scores ranked second-worst in the state, beating only Baltimore in performance.

Tensions also grew because of an impasse over the county’s court-ordered busing program, which had been in effect for more than 20 years as a means to increase racial diversity at county schools. In 1994, Mr. Felegy proposed to end busing, but it was four years before an agreement was reached by the school system, the county government and the NAACP to phase it out.

“At one point, we closed 65 schools, more than most school systems even contemplate having in the first place,” Mr. Felegy told a George Washington University publication in 2006. “Desegregation meant transferring about 33,000 students mid-year. We carried that off and then maintained an integrated school system.”

Described as soft-spoken and unassuming, Mr. Felegy said he preferred operating behind-the-scenes — in sharp contrast with his charismatic immediate predecessor, John A. Murphy.

“I don’t have this tremendous ego need to be in the spotlight all the time,” Mr. Felegy told The Post in 1992. “That is not my personality. What I am most interested in is the bottom line.”

Critics accused Mr. Felegy of being too remote for his high-profile job and of not cultivating enough financial support and alliances from local political leaders and the business community.

“He was very responsive to the council and understood the school system,” then-County Council Chairman Anne T. MacKinnon told The Post in 1994. “But leadership and management aren’t necessarily the same thing. A true leader causes change. A manager operates within the status quo. Felegy was a very good manager.”

In 1993, then-County Executive Parris N. Glendening, who would later be Maryland’s governor, called for Mr. Felegy’s resignation, saying the system needed new stewardship; Glendening and Mr. Felegy barely spoke the rest of Mr. Felegy’s term. Mr. Felegy announced his retirement in 1995.

Edward Moody Felegy was born Dec. 24, 1937, in Pittsburgh. He received a bachelor’s degree in government and foreign affairs from George Washington University in 1958 and a master’s degree in education from the University of Maryland in 1970.

He said he initially planned to join the Foreign Service but an early job teaching led him to change his mind. “Seeing a youngster take an idea you dropped into their lap and run with it is exciting stuff,” he told The Post in 1991.

Mr. Felegy received many community awards and served on the board of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, a nonprofit organization. In 2007, he established a scholarship endowment fund at George Washington University for students majoring in international affairs. In 1996, Prince George County’s annual concert at the Kennedy Center, which showcases the school system’s musical talent, was renamed in his honor.

Mr. Felegy never married. Survivors include his sister, Janet Tranter of Longmeadow, Mass.

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