When Robert Y. Dubel came to the Baltimore County school system in 1968, the county was still a sleepy suburb, worlds apart from the problems wracking urban education. In the 23 years since, Baltimore County has been transformed into a major metropolitan area with a population that is increasingly diverse both economically and racially.
Dubel, who has announced his retirement as superintendent after this school year, has done an impressive job. Under his leadership, the county implemented the nationally acclaimed "DARE" anti-drug program as well as a values education program, also copied nationwide. Baltimore County students still score better on standardized tests than most other students in the state. More than that, Dubel, though officially an educator, has unquestionably been one of the most powerful politicians in the county. He has virtually controlled the language of debate on education -- mustering the allegiance of the school board and rousing PTA armies to get what he wanted. As a result, the Education Department has never experienced an overall budget cut under his tenure. Even in these recessionary times, education still manages to capture 42 percent of local government revenues.
Dubel's hard-driving style has not been not without its critics or its drawbacks. He has often been called an autocrat, and there is obvious dissension in the ranks: Many teachers feel their voices and interests have been squelched in matters of policy and pay. There are also social changes with which the schools have not kept pace. Members of the African-American community have repeatedly complained the school system is dragging its feet on programs to raise minority achievement and participation in school activities. Technological advancements are lagging, too; the school system has only one computer for every 33 students -- hardly the stuff of competitiveness.