Montgomery County schools' chief of information technology, the first senior executive to be fired from the system in years, is protesting what he called Superintendent Jerry Weast's "shocking" decision to let him go.
Ronald H. Walsh, who made $114,546 a year, said he is being made a "scapegoat" for a serious breakdown in a new computer system that left hundreds of students stranded without classes and kept frustrated Help Desk callers on hold for as long as 20 minutes.
"Dr. Weast acted very impulsively," said Walsh's attorney, Mindy Farber.
On Sept. 4, as computer experts and staff struggled to fix the overwhelmed Student Information System, or SIS, Weast called Walsh, Chief Financial Officer Larry Bowers and spokesman Brian J. Porter into his office.
Walsh and Porter had just finished drafting a memo to school board members when Weast, sitting in his wooden rocker and looking off into the distance, asked them to add two more details:
One, Weast would seek compensation for "program deficiencies" from the Canadian software company that developed the system. And two, he intended to make changes in the information technology division, starting at the top.
After the meeting, Walsh said, he went to see Bowers, who told him that Weast's comments meant that Walsh was fired.
"I was devastated. I was shocked. I was angry," Walsh said. "It was as if [Weast] were talking to the man in the moon. Interpersonal relations is a severe weakness of his."
Weast declined to comment.
"The personnel decisions regarding Mr. Walsh are very complicated, and we are not able to discuss them," Porter said. "Certainly, there's more here than we are able to say at this point. But we are constrained by the confidentiality of the personnel process and the apparent threat of litigation."
Walsh admits he is "partially responsible" for the computer breakdown, as department head. "Certainly I take some oversight responsibility. But the person in charge of the system was a full three layers below me. To say I'm the only person responsible for all the chaos, I would say, makes me a scapegoat."
Walsh contends that his firing also was connected to President Clinton's recent visit to Brooke Grove Elementary School. Weast "was very concerned that the computer problems would shift national media attention away from the president's limelight and his limelight," he said.
To that, Porter said: "The irony of having a presidential visit to a school severely impacted by the crisis was not lost on anyone."
Walsh asserts in a letter to Weast that the superintendent violated board policy and state law in terminating him. Weast's termination letter did not outline specific charges against him, Walsh said. Further, Walsh said, only board members can fire him and by law must give him 10 days to appeal.