After 15 years on the job, Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel said yesterday that the 1991-1992 school year would be his last.
Looking relaxed and somewhat melancholy, the 66-year-old superintendent made the announcement before about 300 county educators at the annual back-to-school pep talk at Loch Raven High School.
"You may ask why do it now?" Dr. Dubel said of the timing of his announcement -- 10 months before he will leave. "I want to give our board ample time to find a successor."
At various times during his long tenure as leader of the nation's 25th-largest school district, Dr. Dubel has been described as controversial, autocratic and compassionate.
Yesterday, he reminisced about his many years in the county school system, first as a student at Randallstown Elementary and Catonsville High schools and finally as its leader.
Dr. Dubel came to the county school system in 1968 as the assistant superintendent for staff and community relations. He was deputy superintendent from 1971 to 1976 and was appointed superintendent in 1976. He described his tenure as the longest of any superintendent in the 100 largest school districts in America.
The accomplishment Dr. Dubel described as his proudest is that people have been able to work together under his leadership of the 90,000-student system. He has enjoyed a good relationship with members of the board of education, which at one time included Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden.
The board has gotten "a bum rap that they are a rubber stamp" for anything the superintendent wanted, he said. "From time to time I think people get upset that we don't have public fights."
Board President Rosalie Hellman said the board regrets Dr. Dubel's retirement. "We respect and honor his decision, and wish him well in his retirement. On the other hand, we are terribly saddened at the prospect of losing one of the finest educators in the state and the nation."
Dr. Dubel was described as a "visionary" by Carmella Veit, president of the PTA Council of Baltimore County. She credits his leadership for strengthening the curriculum and discipline code.
"Overall, he's been a good advocate for the Baltimore County school system," said Edward Veit, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and Mrs. Veit's husband.
But praise for Dr. Dubel's reign was not universal.
James Pennington, head of the Baltimore County branch of the NAACP, and other members of the black community recently called for the superintendent's resignation, charging that he has been slow in implementing the school system's plan to raise minority achievement and participation in school activities. He also charged that Dr. Dubel has not kept pace with the times. "Times have changed," Mr. Pennington said. "It's time to prepare our students for internationalism. Our classrooms are ill equipped to prepare students for this."
Dr. Dubel said he is proud that the school system's program to teach values and ethics has become a national model. He noted that the school system's drug and alcohol education program was lauded by William J. Bennett, former chief of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
He defended a policy of not automatically providing free or reduced price breakfasts at every school that has enough low income students to qualify for federal aid.
The Baltimore County school system is the only one in Maryland that does not do so.
Under Dr. Dubel's policy, questionnaires are used to locate hungry
students. First the family is counseled on the importance of breakfast and later, if it is learned that the child still isn't being fed, a breakfast is provided at school. Last month he donated a $10,000 raise to start a breakfast fund for poor children.
He has said that the method encourages lifelong good eating habits in families instead of promoting dependency on the school system.
Critics, notably Maryland Food Committee members who have lobbied Dr. Dubel to provide breakfast at each school that qualifies, say that his policy allows many hungry children to fall through the cracks.
Yesterday, Dr. Dubel said, "I am convinced our school breakfast program is the best."
Financing the school system which has about 12,000 employees and 149 schools has been the biggest challenge, Dr. Dubel said. "Public finance in this country is in a mess," he said. "We have to change the priority of spending in government" to increase spending on public education, he said.
Dr. Dubel said that he plans to put in a full, rigorous school year and is considering a few job offers for after he retires on June 30, 1992.
A graduate of Western Maryland College, Boston University and the George Washington University, Dr. Dubel was the Associate Executive Secretary for the Maryland State Teachers' Association from 1954 to 1968. He was an instructor at Western Maryland College from 1959 to 1968. Board members declined to answer questions about the search for Dr. Dubel's successor, except to say there are no front-runners.