Stuart Berger, Lightning Rod

June 23, 1993

The auditorium of Loch Raven High School has been the scene of some rowdy public meetings over the years. But tonight, as Baltimore County school system officials, teachers and parents gather at Loch Raven to air their differences, they could make those previous meetings look like kindergarten tea parties by comparison.

This evening's confab was organized by County Executive Roger Hayden, in response to the mounting criticism of School Superintendent Stuart Berger by parents, school employees and others who believe he's changing the system too rapidly and with a my-way-or-the-highway arrogance that adds galling insult to injury.

For their part, Dr. Berger and the Board of Education that hired him say it's necessary not only to implement these changes but to implement them fast if the school system is to keep pace with major societal shifts in the county.

Indeed, Dr. Berger has become such a lightning rod of controversy that every county politician should write him a thank-you note. All the heat's off them and on him. To date, most pols have laid low, but now a few have piped up with anti-Berger statements that look more like attempts to garner votes than to help douse a fiery situation. These elected state and federal officials ought to back off if all they can do is pour gasoline on the flames.

Having said that, we have no problem with Mr. Hayden's involvement. He is, after all, the head of the county government and well within the bounds of his office to take an active part in a growing dispute that could hurt his jurisdiction. And because Mr. Hayden is a former school board president, his interest in the matter seems more than political. As though to underscore this point, he has asked another ex-president of the county school board, Donald Pearce, to lead tonight's meeting. Mr. Pearce should note how last week's school board conference turned into an imbroglio and take pains to run a saner gathering tonight.

Then maybe, after all the parties have spoken out, they'll cool down enough to reach some understandings. The Berger bashers should try to understand that the school board's agenda, crafted four years ago under then-superintendent Robert Dubel, is not change for the sake of change but change for the sake of their kids. As for school officials, they must come to grips with the fact that they have done a poor job communicating their ideas over the past year. If they hadn't, tonight's meeting might never have been necessary.

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