Alonso says he 'made a real mistake'
Baltimore schools CEO Andres Alonso released a statement today regarding the appointment of Brian Morris, former school board chairman, to an unadvertised, $175,000-a-year job as deputy CEO of operations. Morris withdrew his acceptance to the post Saturday, after questions arose about the hiring process and his own financial troubles. In the statement, Alonso says he “made a real mistake” and takes “responsibility for rebuilding ... trust.” Here is the full statement:
June 16, 2009
Dear City Schools Partners and Friends,
Last Tuesday, I sent you an email about several appointments that were aimed to solidify the school system’s senior leadership team as we prepare for the next school year. One of these, the appointment of Brian D. Morris as Deputy CEO for Operations, has been the topic of many questions over the past week. Saturday morning, the Board of School Commissioners and I accepted Mr. Morris’ withdrawal of his acceptance of the post.
Every decision I have made since I arrived in Baltimore City has been about the kids and has been informed by an incredible sense of urgency about moving the work forward. The offer of a position to Mr. Morris last week and the acceptance of his withdrawal Saturday were based on these same fundamental convictions. With a central office that is more than 30% smaller than two years ago, there is a critical need for a position to integrate operations in the central office -- human resources, technology, facilities, and finance—in order to support schools. To fill that need, we created a position as a deputy in charge of operations and offered Mr. Morris that position. Mr. Morris’ service on the Board for six years was exemplary: he had shown an extraordinary capacity to understand the workings of the organization, and, as a result of his leadership of several Board committees (including those dealing with finances, facilities and labor relations), he had extensive knowledge of a broad range of school operations. The offer was based on his capacity and knowledge, the urgent need to realign the way a drastically smaller central office does business, and his understanding of the vision of our school reform. I felt strongly that, given that depth of experience and the passion for students he had demonstrated in his leadership of the board, he would be the right person for the position. I own the decision.
I thought that there would be questions about the offer given the fact that the position had not been advertised and because of Mr. Morris’ previous position on the Board. I expected to address these questions by pointing out the urgency of the work, the need for the position and the fact that Mr. Morris could immediately begin to add value. In putting a leadership team in place for the reforms now under way, it has been my practice to move quickly once I have found the right person for the role. In retrospect, considering the nature of the allegations that surfaced, I made a real mistake. Outcomes matter above everything, and here the outcome has been to erode some of the public trust in our school system that is essential to our success on behalf of kids. I take responsibility for rebuilding that trust.
Allegations in news reports about Mr. Morris’ personal business life immediately made it clear to Mr. Morris that his appointment was distracting attention away from where it needs to be – on our kids and schools. He rescinded his acceptance. The allegations that surfaced concerned matters beyond the scope of our normal vetting process for senior positions, which are similar to those of other school systems: in the hiring process we check references, we ask about conflicts of interest, and, once an offer of employment is made, we require that new hires complete a criminal background check. All senior level employees also file an annual personal financial disclosure statement. None of these usual checks would have unearthed the allegations, and we are reviewing these processes to see how they may be strengthened. Meanwhile, the position will be posted and another candidate will be sought.
I regret deeply that the focus has shifted away from our kids and schools, even if for a few days. One of the critical components of the remarkable progress our children and schools have been making is that we have kept the conversation about what’s best for kids, not about the adults. The Board, I, elected officials, and --perhaps most importantly—you, our partners and friends, have played a critical role in keeping that steady focus.
That focus has resulted in exceptional results by our kids and schools, which I will be detailing in an end of year email later this week and of which I am very proud. Enrollment increased for the first time in four decades. Our 1st and 2nd graders passed the national average in reading and math. Our 3rd through 8th graders made record gains in achievement. And our high school students stepped up their performance dramatically on state assessments preparing for graduation.
I have been consistent in my leadership style. Let me say it simply: I cannot possibly slow down and cannot possibly make decisions other than for the good of kids. Given the ground that we still need to travel, the force of the reform now under way is and must remain undiminished. No superintendent is infallible. I will make other mistakes, but I learn from my mistakes.
The bottom line is outcomes for kids. As we prepare for the next school year which begins in just a few months, on August 31, the work needs our full concentration. Thank you for your ongoing dedication to our schools and kids.
Andrés A. Alonso, Ed.D.
CEO, Baltimore City Public Schools