Half-a-dozen persons were memtioned yesterday as posisible successors to Montgomery County school superintendent Charles M. Bernardo amid signs that selection of a new superintendent will be marked by bitter conflict between the school board's liberal and conservative factions.
Only a day after a judge cleared the way for replacement of Bernardo, a controversial figure who became the target of the board's new conservative majority, board members traded accusations centering on one person considered a leading candidate for the job, deputy school superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie.
Blair Ewinb, a member of the board's liberal faction, told a reporter that McKenzie would never be appointed by the conservative majority because "she is the wrong skin color." McKenzie, 43, is black.
When told of Ewing's comment, conservative board member Joseph Barse called it "scurrilous."
Later in the day it was learned that McKenzie had apparently removed herself from contention for the top school administrative job by accepting a position with the U.S. Department of Education.
Barse also denounced Ewing and others who served on the previous school board for creating a controversy over the superintendency last June by reappointing Bernardo 15 months before his contract was due to expire.
It was that extension that County Circuit Judge John F. McAuliffe ruled invalid Thursday, clearing the way for the new board majority to appoint a successor Oct.1. Bernardo says he will appeal that court decision.
Observers said yesterday that six persons now serving as associate superintendents in the Montgomery school system are considered candidates for Bernardo's job, and leading the list are Edward Andrews and Harry Pitt. Andrews, said no one had approached him about the post and he was "extremely surprised by the whole thing." Pitt declined to comment.
Other associate superintendents are Alan L. Dodd, Gary K. Wright, Paul L. Vance and Lois A. Martin.
Several observers said the board is considering appointing someone already employed by the system. "We need someone who knows the system well. The last thing we need is another upstart," said one school system source who declined to be named.
Bernardo was hired in 1975 from the Providence, R.I., school system to reorganize and streamline the Montgomery system in the face of declining enrollment.
Board President Marian Greenblatt declined to comment on yesterday's speculation. "I've heard everything from Andrews to former superintendent Homer Elseroad," she said. "We'll take time in making a decision. The rumors are ridiculous."
Barse said the board will consider at its meeting on Tuesday either establishing a "blue ribbon" citizens commission to spearhead to nationwide search for a new superintendent or hiring a professional search firm.
McKenzie was appointed to her Montogmery post by the school board last year on Bernardo's recommendation. She is popular with teachers and adminstrators, and is credited with easing internal squabbles that erupted over Bernardohs reorganization of the school bureaucracy.
She said yesterday her decision to resign was in no way connected with the ruling on Bernardo's contract. She said she was "honored" by her federal appointment, and added that the new job had been "in the works for about a week".
Bernardo became a target of the conservatives during last fall's campaign when three candidates who went to win election to the school board criticized him for a reorganziation of the school bureauracy that alienated some adminstrators, the closing of 23 schools on this recommendation that irritated many neighbourhood groups, and the institution of a mandatory course in black culture that some teahers thought was necessary.
To date, the major dispute between the board's new conservative majority and the liberal minority has been over the black culture course, which the majority has made voluntary. That move was denounced by the minority and created a furor among the country's black community.
Under Thursday's court ruling, the board may appoint an acting superintendent by Oct. 1, when Bernardohs original contract is due to expire, and name a permanent replacement next February for a term starting July 1, 1980.