The Odd Couple?

May 20, 1993

In Baltimore County a year ago, we anticipated som interesting alchemy between Executive Roger Hayden, the self-described non-politician politician, and Stuart Berger, the new superintendent who came billed as the non-traditionalist educator.

But the chemistry between the two now resembles that found in your average junior high science class: some smoke and a bunch of minor explosions.

The most recent flare-up came over capital spending to turn the vacant Sudbrook Middle School into a magnet school. Mr. Hayden scratched $500,000 from the school budget for equipment for Sudbrook, questioning whether the magnet project was necessary in the county's northwest section. "This is just beyond belief," came Dr. Berger's saucy response. "Can the county executive do this? Yes. Should he be doing this? Absolutely not." The county and school administration traded accusations and barbs earlier in the budget process, too.

For his part, Mr. Hayden handled the Sudbrook matter poorly. A committee of educators and community residents worked months to draft the Sudbrook magnet plan. It deserved more than his cursory brush-off. The county executive is charged with responsibility for capital spending, but Mr. Hayden, in the Sudbrook controversy, appears as if he's trying to dictate education policy, too.Dr. Berger isn't blameless, either. He savors can-do optimism and abhors whining among his staff, but hasn't set a good example for his troops.

After an impressive beginning last year, with a joint announcement of an all-day kindergarten initiative, the relationship between Mr. Hayden and Dr. Berger seems to be floundering. Is it a clash of strong personalities? Or is it a broader philosophical distrust between an administration composed largely of people who worked under former school superintendent, Robert Y. Dubel, and a current superintendent and school board with a much different vision?

Baltimore County officials no doubt understand the link between a successful school system and their jurisdiction's ability to attract business and young, higher-income families. Based on the backgrounds of the county's two leaders, one might have expected some novel, no-nonsense responses to the education challenges. Based on the tone of the recent discourse in Towson, however, maybe the county's top politician and its superintendent aren't as non-political and non-traditional as they pretend.

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