Turncoats in Towson?

April 24, 1992

If Baltimore County Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel could pick his county government dream team -- like those fantasy baseball games -- one would think it would look something like the line-up that's in Towson right now.

County Executive Roger B. Hayden served on the county school board for the better part of a decade, including when Dr. Dubel was chosen superintendent. Mr. Hayden's experience as board president surely helped sell him to voters when he beat a much better-known incumbent in 1990.

The executive's administrative officer, Merreen Kelly, rose through the county school ranks over three decades to become an associate superintendent. Mr. Hayden's Executive Assistant, Nick Spinnato, was a long-time principal and before that led the local teachers' union. The director of recreation, Wayne Harman, also came from a career in school administration. County Attorney Emslie Parks, too, served on the school board.

Yet despite the administration's roots in the public school system, Mr. Dubel must have felt as if he had just been mugged after Mr. Hayden unveiled yesterday his new budget. Hoping for a modest budget increase to handle 3,600 new children expected in September, the school system instead took a small cut in county aid, possibly for the first time since the Great Depression. Instead of hiring 150 new teachers to cover the additional enrollment, as the superintendent wanted, the schools won't be able to replace about 130 of the 400 teachers expected to sign up for early retirement this month.

Mr. Dubel, who is retiring this summer after the longest continuous tenure of any superintendent in the nation's 100 largest school systems, criticized Mr. Hayden's budget as a "lose-lose" situation. The proposal will rile taxpayer groups by making the county the only jurisdiction in the region to increase the piggyback income tax, yet the school system won't gain a nickel in exchange for the heightened ire, Mr. Dubel said. The school chief says the county executive should have raised the piggyback tax to the full 60 percent allowed, which would have provided enough money to maintain the current teacher-student ratio.

Does Mr. Hayden feel his administrative team has pulled a Benedict Arnold on school headquarters? To the contrary, Mr. Hayden suggests he can reduce spending on education because he and his executives understand the system well enough to know that this cut won't prove disastrous.

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