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Annapolis - Harford’s state legislators are enraged about the lack of respect they believe they are receiving from Harford County’s superintendent of schools and some of the actions he has taken during his six months on the job.

Since Robert Tomback was appointed superintendent in July, Harford’s delegates and senators say they have seen a pattern of behavior they refuse to tolerate.

Tomback was hired following the sudden death of Dr. Jacqueline C. Haas in December 2008. During her nearly 11-year tenure, Dr. Haas had a cordial relationship with the county’s legislators, but she did not accept meddling from Annapolis.

“If we continue to have people appointed in a public position disrespect elected officials, that is not in the best interest of the people,” Del. Pat McDonough, a Republican representing Western Harford County District 7, said of Tomback.

Vocal criticism of Tomback came after his decision to invoke the Maryland Public Information Act, or MPIA, when one of the delegates requested a videotape of the highly controversial “Drama Therapy” skits performed at Havre de Grace High School.

“I am not living with this disrespect,” Del. Rick Impallaria, who requested a copy of the video, said at Friday’s weekly delegation meeting in Annapolis. “Never have I seen this type of behavior. This is not the relationship we should have with the superintendent.”

‘Drama Therapy flap’

Impallaria, a Republican also representing District 7, sent a letter to Tomback Jan. 12 requesting an unedited copy of the “Drama Therapy” performance, but the school system refused to turn the video over until Impallaria followed the proper protocol in accordance with the MPIA.

“I don’t see this response as appropriate,” Del. Wayne Norman, a Republican representing District 35A, said, adding that the superintendent’s actions were equivalent to “dropping napalm on a mosquito.”

The “Drama Therapy” program performed in December for the student body at-large and the general public, has been the center of controversy as parents have complained to school officials about the content in the skits that combine heavy drama and comedy to address issues teens face.

Among the topics explored are rape, abortion, male-female relationships, drinking and child sex abuse. All skits were performed by Havre de Grace High students and most were written either by current students or alumni.

At Friday’s delegation meeting, the legislators demanded Tomback appear before them with a copy of the “Drama Therapy” tape. The delegation approved sending a letter with their demands.

Explanation sought

The legislators said they also want an explanation from the superintendent about his decision to invoke the MPIA.

Although the school system has not received a letter from the delegation as of Tuesday, the communications office said Dave Volrath, executive director of secondary education, has been in contact with the delegation.

“Mr. Volrath has already reached out to the delegation and will bring the tape to Annapolis,” Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications, said, adding that Tomback will also travel to Annapolis. “We are just waiting to hear back from the delegation as to when they can view the DVD.”

Kranefeld said the MPIA was only invoked because Impallaria requested a copy of the DVD, not a screening.

“In terms of just being able to view it, you don’t need an MPIA,” Kranefeld said. “Transferring the physical DVD to another party would require a more formal process.”

Once the school system was in contact with the legislators and discovered they only wanted to view the taped performance, discussions began about when the tape could be brought to Annapolis began.

“It was always our intention to give them [the legislators] the opportunity to view the performance,” she said.

Although the legislators will have their request to see the “Drama Therapy” performance honored, what they regard the superintendent’s inappropriate behavior doesn’t stop with the videotape.

Advocating for parents

Sen. Barry Glassman, a Republican representing Northern Harford District 35, said he was contacted by parents who were concerned about their children being transferred to a different school a few months back.

Trying to help, Glassman said he sent an e-mail to the superintendent, but his e-mail was returned stating that he would need to get written consent from the concerned parents in order to address this issue.

“In 20 years, this has never happened,” Glassman said.

Impallaria also brought up the superintendent’s alleged decision to block e-mails from the president of the Harford Count Education Association, or HCEA, the largest union in the school system which represents more than 3,000 teachers.

The union has filed a grievance over access to the school system’s inter-school courier service and e-mail.

Though specifics regarding the grievance have been unavailable to the media, sources say the school system has been blocking some e-mails it tried to send to teachers.

New to job, county

Del. Susan McComas, a Republican representing Bel Air District 35B, tried to chalk up Tomback’s supposedly inappropriate decisions to being new to the job and the county. Before being hired in Harford, Tomback was a deputy superintendent in Baltimore County.

“Let’s give him an opportunity to work with us,” she said, adding that Tomback’s response to Impallaria’s request for the videotape was most likely written by someone other than Tomback.

“Let’s not make this worse, but let’s be persistent,” she added.

But Del. Dan Riley, a Democrat representing Southern Harford District 34, disagreed with McComas’ reasoning.

“He [Tomback] is still responsible for policy no matter who wrote the letter,” he said.

Riley said many delegates and senators were “extremely kind” when Tomback refused to show President Barack Obama’s Sept. 8 nationwide speech to schools live in Harford, primarily because Tomback had been on the job barely two months.

Riley, who retired from Harford County Public Schools as a teacher in 2006, said the legislators are looking for a relationship similar to the one they had with Haas.

“We have had several superintendents here make a quick exit,” he said. “Jackie [Haas] was easy to work with.”

Aside from Jeffery N. Grotsky, who served as superintendent for 21 months before being fired, the four superintendents prior to Tomback served for a decade or more.

Kranefeld said Tomback is working directly with the delegation, and the school system would have no response to comments made at Friday’s delegation meeting.

Letter to school system

At Friday’s delegation meeting, the delegates unanimously decided to send a letter to the school system requesting Tomback appear in Annapolis to address the delegation with a copy of the “Drama Therapy” videotape.

Harford’s three senators also decided to sign onto the letter.

Del. J.B. Jennings, a Republican representing District 7 and chairman of the delegation, said the letter was to be sent to the school system Tuesday, but as of 4 p.m. not all of the legislators’ signatures had been obtained.

Del. Mary-Dulany James, a Democrat representing District 34, suggested at Friday’s meeting that instead of writing letters back and forth, the legislators could call Tomback and request an explanation of his actions.

“I think a phone call makes sense,” she said. “The first order of business is not to escalate this, but to get to the bottom of it. I don’t want to see something escalate unnecessarily, which seems to be a pattern in this delegation.”

McDonough, however, blames Tomback for fostering any ill will.

“He escalated it with his pattern of behavior,” McDonough said. “There has to be a spirit of openness and cooperation like we had with Dr. Haas, and others.”

Since the legislators agreed to send a letter to the superintendent, James has suggested the letter reflect “character and decency.”


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