A nervous school system

June 30, 1993

Although it seems like just another symptom in the nervous breakdown of a school system, the decision by Rosalie Hellman to step down as Baltimore County School Board president is a hopeful sign. It indicates the board has at last acknowledged that the controversy surrounding the system has gotten out of hand and must be quelled.

It also offers what may be the last chance to salvage the new programs implemented in the past year by School Superintendent Stuart Berger -- programs even many of his critics say are needed.

Baltimore County is a conservative place, however, and these changes are simply unpalatable to a lot of people. (Of course, few of them knew or noted that the alterations had been laid out in a visionary blueprint drawn under Dr. Berger's predecessor, the widely admired Robert Dubel.)

Far worse in the minds of these people was the way Dr. Berger and his staffers rammed the changes through, often without going to the affected parties for consultation or explanation.

The cries of protest became so loud and relentless that the board had to do something. So, Mrs. Hellman -- second only to Dr. Berger as the favorite target of the school system's most vocal critics -- bowed out as president, though she will remain on the board. Board member and banking executive Alan Leberknight reportedly will be the new head of the panel. Maybe it will take a sharp corporate man such as Mr. Leberknight to convince Dr. Berger that his ideas must be presented better if they're ever to be embraced.

Indeed, a master selling job will be required to make Dr. Berger and his programs acceptable to many county residents. Now that Mrs. Hellman is out as president, the critics might taste blood and decide that Stuart Berger must be run out of town. That would be unwise, and unfair to the board and its new leader, who should be allowed enough time to craft a response to all the charges and concerns that have been raised.

Meanwhile, county legislators should keep a safe distance from this issue. They're within their bounds to meet with the board to discuss the situation, but they only fan the flames when they threaten state investigations of the school system and legislation creating an elected school board. One wonders if they would take such an interest if their re-election campaigns weren't a year away.

Calmer, saner heads must prevail. The new board president should be given the opportunity to calm things down and then work on selling these praiseworthy new education programs. Implementing them more gradually might not suit the impatient Dr. Berger. But if he really wants to keep his job, it might be his best hope.

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