Dubel's Troubles

March 21, 1992

Headlines during the past few months haven't cast a complimentary light on Robert Y. Dubel as he prepares to retire from the Baltimore County school system he has led for 16 years.

First, the Board of Education named a successor, Stuart D. Berger, known as an activist who's not shy to make changes; some interpreted that, rightly or not, as an antidote for Dr. Dubel's inertia.

Next, a county council audit contended that Dr. Dubel's administration is top-heavy compared with other area school systems.

Then, Dr. Dubel exacerbated an unpleasant situation over furloughs by requiring teachers to work when they wouldn't get paid. Teachers reacted with a "sickout" job action last Tuesday.

Now comes word of the deplorable conditions at the 60-year-old Essex Elementary School. The odor of urine is so embedded in the concrete bathroom floors children refuse to use the facilities and people hold their breath to pass in the hallway. Many asbestos floor tiles are broken or missing. The old boiler has seizures. The room thermostats fail. Loose windows let in drafts, while a stairwell radiator runs so hot that the corridor is dubbed "the sauna." The school's former principal says his highly motivated staff became so demoralized after visiting other schools that he facetiously contemplated a solution: No more outside meetings. He said he often made the case to higher-ups about the school's poor conditions.

The school's new principal and parents complained again at a budget hearing before County Executive Roger B. Hayden. The next morning, Mr. Hayden stopped by the school for a quick tour. While he didn't make promises, he acknowledged that the school folks had made their point.

Two councilmen have called the facility's conditions deplorable. The current and former principals have, too. So did a state inspector. Where were Dr. Dubel and his staff?

Although the problem has lingered, not until this year did they request money for a study on whether to rebuild or replace Essex Elementary. Unfortunately, their overall capital budget request of $91 million was so grandiose -- more than twice what the school system previously received -- that county planners chopped off all new requests to bring the budget down to size.

Money for Essex Elementary could still be restored. But the school's parents and leadership had to go directly to the top because the school bureaucracy failed to remedy a disgraceful situation that is clearly evident to any first-time visitor.

One can interpret Dr. Berger's appointment in a myriad ways. The audit on the school administration remains inconclusive. But it seems elemental that if children were forced for years to learn in an environment as deplorable as Essex Elementary, Dr. Dubel and his staff were asleep in their Greenwood mansion.

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