Fairfax County School Superintendent Robert R. Spillane's recent remark that he was pressured to hire politicians' friends and relatives while he was Boston school superintendent has angered some officials there who are demanding he return to New England and name names.
The Boston School Committee sent a letter to Spillane Tuesday, asking him to return to the city and "explain certain remarks attributed to you" in a Nov. 4 Washington Post article.
Spillane, who left Boston in June to head the Northern Virginia system, said yesterday he has no intention of returning and will not withdraw his comments.
"Suggesting there isn't pressure for patronage in the Boston public schools is like suggesting that the Lincoln Memorial doesn't exist," he said. But, he said: "There's nothing illegal with patronage in that sense."
Spillane contrasted his Fairfax job with his three-year superintendency in Boston in the article. "You're not dealing with getting people on payrolls who are related, or who get votes for the school board members -- their ward heelers and their campaign chair people," he said.
In Boston, where the story was reprinted last week, his remarks prompted a 6-to-4 vote by the city's elected school board to send a letter asking him back. Critics said Spillane was reviving the school system's bad image just as its reputation was beginning to improve. Even some who opposed the letter said they were disappointed in Spillane.
"If those things were happening and he knew of them happening, shame on him," said Joseph W. Casper, the Boston School Committee member who sponsored the motion for the letter. "He should come forward and I think we should remove those people."
Casper, Spillane's most aggressive opponent on the board, said yesterday that Spillane should sit down with the district attorney and name those he was pressured to hire and those who were applying the pressure. If Spillane cannot back up his charges, Casper said, he should "be a good boy and be quiet."
Spillane dismissed the letter as "the ghost of Casper returning." He said he does not intend to go back because "that's behind me."
"If he was giving jobs away to politicians here, I want an explanation," said Daniel R. Burke, a high school guidance counselor who was among the committee members voting to send the letter.
Committee member John O'Bryant, who voted against the letter, said he was "disappointed more than insulted" by Spillane. "I see it [the Boston school system] in a more positive light than he does," said the Northeastern University dean.
O'Bryant said he voted against the summons to Spillane because "I really don't think it's worth the effort. Who's going to gain what? If you get defensive about everything, you won't get anywhere."
Casper and others said Spillane's remark was the latest in a series of shots he has taken at the school system. Casper's motion said the remark "begins to create the public impression that there is a lot of wheeling and dealing going on here."
The resolution also states that Spillane should make clear "who is doing what, who has relatives on the payroll, who is doing illegal things, and if, in fact, he knew about it and if things were happening, why he allowed it to happen."