Berger sits through night of jeers, some praise Most at hearing call for his ouster

blacks, chamber speak in his behalf

June 24, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer Staff Writer Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this article.

Frustrated parents and teachers got their say -- if not their way -- with the Baltimore County school board and

Superintendent Stuart Berger last night, in a public hearing orchestrated by County Executive Roger B. Hayden.

There were many cheers for Dr. Berger's critics and jeers for his defenders from those in the crowd of 500 that gathered in the auditorium at Loch Raven Senior High School. Most of the approximately 115 people who signed up for a chance at the microphone got to speak before the six-hour session ended at 1 a.m..

School board members and Dr. Berger sat in the first two rows -- a reserved section flanked by security guards. They did not respond.

Dorothy Thomas, a parent, chastised the board for "allowing one man to rule by arrogance.

"We don't need a run-through-town superintendent who is more interested in creating newspaper copy than in what is best for our schools," she said.

Debra Mitchell, a parent from Rodgers Forge Elementary School, told the assembly: "It's time for a new superintendent and a new school board. It's time to end this regime. It is time for change."

Among the relatively few speakers supporting the superintendent was Patricia Medley, the mother of two high school students and spokeswoman for the Coalition of Concerned African-American Organizations, a coalition of black parents. "I have come tonight to voice my displeasure . . . with those who have taken vengeance on this board and Dr. Berger," Ms. Medley said.

She was loudly booed as she praised the board and superintendent for "taking the moral high ground" to promote policies making schools and accelerated programs more demographically diverse -- in race, ability and disability.

Other speakers told stories of teachers expressing fears of retaliation from the school system if they spoke out against the changes that Dr. Berger has pushed in his first year as superintendent.

Among them are elimination of traditional letter grades for young elementary pupils, moving disabled children out of special schools and into neighborhood schools, and an unusual number of demotions and reassignments of principals, assistant principals and teachers.

The demotions apparently hit hardest at older school administrators.

Assistant principal demoted

Ernest Nuetzel received a standing ovation when he told of being demoted from assistant principal at Grange Elementary School.

"Two weeks ago, I was called into the office to be told [by an assistant superintendent] I wouldn't be assistant principal. I asked, 'Is this based on the number of years and my age?' I was told yes."

"I don't want to retire," said Mr. Nuetzel, who has been at Grange 13 years -- nine of them as assistant principal. But rather than move to a teaching job, he said, "I have chosen to retire."

Ralph Peters, an assistant principal at Overlea High and a 27-year veteran of the system, said he received the news of his demotion Monday.

"I do know I am upset by the way this process is being handled," he said.

"I'm 6 feet 4 inches and weigh 220 pounds and I'm more scared than I've ever been in my life. Why am I frightened to be standing here right now?"

Nicholas G. Greaves, president of the county Chamber of Commerce, was jeered when he said: "We do not advocate a respite in change. Rather, the county Chamber of Commerce proposes a respite in the attacks on the efforts to improve our educational system. Give them a chance."

Parents of students with disabilities whose children are being moved from special education into neighborhood schools have led the chorus of opposition to Dr. Berger over the last few weeks, and they turned out in force last night. They argued that the decisions made about their children are hasty and ill advised.

"This plan is disorganized, to say the least. It's like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing," said Deborah Pahr, parent of a student at the White Oak special education center.

A night for listening

Listening was what the school board president, Rosalie Hellman, said was needed in the furor resulting from the last school board meeting -- when she ordered the doors closed and denied the public a chance to speak, normally a routine part of the twice-monthly sessions.

bTC Dr. Berger sat nearly expressionless last night, listening and occasionally nodding as the speakers took their turns, most of them to lambaste him and his policies.

"It's what I expected it would be," he said during a break in the session. "Not letting the opposing point of view be heard is pathetic," he said of the boos that greeted his supporters.

"I still believe that my motives are right. The bottom line is that I think there's tremendous support out there. There are lots of supportive teachers out there. There are people who are happy. This will not change what fundamentally has to be done."

Several hours before last night's meeting, the Coalition of Concerned African American Organizations issued a formal statement of support for the embattled superintendent.

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