Stuart Berger vs. the Berger bashers

June 23, 1993

In this corner, Baltimore County School Superintendent Stuart Berger and the county Board of Education. During the past year, their critics say, they have changed the school system too rapidly and with a galling arrogance.

And in that corner, the parents and county school employees who began leveling these and other criticisms at Dr. Berger and the board seemingly minutes after his plane from Wichita, Kan., touched down in Maryland last summer.

The two sides clash tonight at Loch Raven High School in what could be the grudge match of the season. No, Don King isn't the promoter. It's County Executive Roger Hayden, who organized the confab in response to the mounting criticism of school officials. For their part, the officials insist it's necessary not only to implement these changes but to implement them quickly if the school system is to keep pace with major societal shifts in the county.

Dr. Berger, in fact, has become such a controversial figure that every county politician should sit down and write him a thank-you note. People are too busy to hate the politicos because they're so busy hating Dr. Berger. To date, most pols have stayed in the background. Now, however, a few elected state and federal officials have piped up with anti-Berger statements that look more like attempts to garner votes than to help douse a fiery situation. If all these officials can do is pour gasoline on the flames, they ought to back off.

Yet, having said that, we support Mr. Hayden's involvement. After all, he runs the county government and is within his official bounds to jump into a growing dispute that could harm his jurisdiction. Also, because Mr. Hayden is a former school board president, his interest in the matter seems more than political. As if to underscore this point, he has assigned another ex-president of the county school board, Donald Pearce, to lead tonight's meeting. Mr. Pearce, keeping in mind how last week's school board conference turned into a free-for-all, must aim to run a calmer gathering tonight.

Then, after all the parties have spoken, they might chill out enough finally to understand some things. Berger's bashers should try to realize that the board's agenda, formed four years ago under then-superintendent Robert Dubel, is not change for the sake of change but for the sake of their kids. And school officials should face the fact they've done a bad job of communicating their ideas this past year. If they hadn't, does anyone think tonight's meeting would have been necessary?

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