By Guy Leonard, guyleonard [at] countytimes.net
HOLLYWOOD, Md.—The St. Mary's County Board of Education chose a longtime, veteran educator Wednesday to lead the school system while it searches for a new permanent superintendent.
James Scott Smith, who currently serves as the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction will take over the position September 13 as current Superintendent Michael J. Martirano leaves to take over the school system of West Virginia.
Smith will serve through to June 30 of next year and by that time the school system should have chosen a permanent leader for the school system.
Smith said he intends to lead the school system to have a productive year though there are challenges like a tight budget.
Were going to have an eventful year, Smith said.
Building a sound, fiscally responsible and transparent budget would be one of his greatest challenges he said, since his focus much of his career has been teaching.
He started his career with the county school system 23 years ago as an English teacher at Leonardtown High School, he said.
Thats going to be my biggest lift, constructing the budget, Smith said.
Smith said his two other main priorities were to ensure the delivery of the same level of daily operations the school system has maintained and to work with the systems three labor associations to finish negotiating contract agreements which have only been extended pending final reconciliation.
He said the back-to-basics effort that many teachers are expected to participate in, where they pledge to work only the hours in their contract and not take on any extra duties, will likely be another challenge this school year.
He agreed that teachers should be compensated fairly and they were right to advocate for it, but how we go about it we might have differing opinions.
Its going to be one of the biggest challenges we deal with.
Members of the school board said their farewells to Martirano, who they praised for leading the school system to higher levels of achievement throughout all grade levels and raising graduation rates from high schools above 90 percent.
School Board member Cathy Allen came near to tears when she said how much she appreciated Martiranos efforts over nearly a decade with county schools.
Martirano is the longest serving superintendent in Maryland.
As a group weve done incredible things in St. Marys County, Allen said. You are among the top one percent in the nation.
Board member Brooke Matthews praised Martirano for his efforts in making the county school system among the best in the nation.
Youre like the perfect tenant, Matthews said. Youre leaving the place in better shape than when you came.
Martiranos leadership, and that of the school board, came under fire from county leaders earlier this spring when his administration announced a $6.5 million deficit due to higher than expected health care costs.
The school system at first asked the Board of County Commissioners to bail out the entire amount but in subsequent weeks said they were able to pare down the deficit through cost savings and fiscal reserves.
Step increases for teachers and other employees were taken out of the budget as a result.
Smith said the budget reconciliation for fiscal 2014 should occur at the school boards next meeting Aug. 27.
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