ANNAPOLIS, JAN. 17 -- Anne Arundel County School Superintendent Larry L. Lorton, faced with dwindling state aid and souring relations with the school board, announced today that he will resign when his contract expires June 30.
Sources said Lorton's resignation was announced after the board voted in closed session Monday not to renew his contract. That vote came after months of tension over how to handle the county's budget crisis.
But Lorton, appointed to the position in 1988, said today that he knew nothing about a vote by the board not to renew his contract.
"If it got out that the board had done that," Lorton said, "that says about as much about the character of those people as you need to say."
The superintendent, 53, alluded wearily today to his clashes with the eight-member board.
"Some of the board members and I have some philosophical differences about some key issues . . . . Maybe it's just a personality difference," he said. "Maybe both need to make a change. I know I need to."
School board President Jo-Ann Tollenger declined to comment on the Monday vote or on her board's generally fractious relationship with Lorton.
Sources close to the board say Lorton's strained relations with Tollenger snapped recently when he declared that school employees would take their four furlough days early this year. The board had decided to delay the furloughs until after the General Assembly adjourns in April.
"He knew very well what we decided. We had reached that decision in public," said a board member who asked not to be identified.
When Lorton made the furlough announcement at a Dec. 16 meeting, Tollenger called for an immediate executive session. After the superintendent and the board members emerged from that session, Lorton retracted the plan.
Lorton also apparently irked some board members with his announcement that Anne Arundel would begin charging students $20 each for driver education classes.
"We have a superintendent telling us to break state law by charging students for a required course?" a board member asked.
That issue arose after a state reduction in aid to driver education resulted in a $20,000 budget shortfall.
Beyond those incidents, however, the rift seems to be rooted in the clashes between two strong-willed people, Tollenger and Lorton, during a period of extreme financial and political stress on county education.
As the national and state economies encountered hard times, Anne Arundel schools were buffeted by $18 million in budget cuts. Those same pressures were felt throughout the Washington area, but seemed especially intense in Anne Arundel.
One source for the tension was Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, who was openly critical of the board and successfully lobbied the legislature last year to give county executives broad power to control education spending and to reopen labor contracts.
Although the thousands of education advocates who marched on Annapolis last fall directed much of their anger over school spending cuts at Neall, education insiders held Lorton responsible for what they perceived as a failure to defend the schools more vigorously.
Lorton declined to say what he will do after leaving the $94,815-a-year job, but said he misses the classroom. "I used to be a great math teacher," he added.