Hearing the Howls of Protest

July 01, 1993

With the decision by Rosalie Hellman to step down as Baltimore County Board of Education president, the nine-member panel has at last acknowledged something must be done to keep the school system from having a nervous breakdown.

Stuart Berger had barely arrived in Towson last year as the new school superintendent before angering parents and teachers with the first of his changes to the system. Few knew or noted these alterations had been laid out in an visionary blueprint drawn during the tenure of Robert Y. Dubel.

To many people in what is largely a conservative county, the changes themselves were bad enough. Far worse in their eyes was how Dr. Berger and his underlings rammed the changes through, often without consulting the affected parties.

The howls of protest became so loud and relentless that the county school board had to take some action. So Mrs. Hellman -- second only to Dr. Berger as the favorite target of the school system's most vocal critics -- has bowed out as president, though she remains on the panel. Enter board member and Bank of Baltimore executive Alan Leberknight as the new president. Perhaps a savvy corporate man such as Mr. Leberknight can help convince Dr. Berger that his ideas must be communicated better if they're ever to gain acceptance.

That's a big "if" at this point. Having toppled Mrs. Hellman, will the critics now set their sights on running Stuart Berger out of town? Before they return to the radio airwaves, the nay-sayers should take a breather and give the board and its new leader some time to craft a response to all the charges and concerns that have been raised.

At the same time, county legislators should tread lightly. Meeting with the board to discuss the situation is one thing. It's entirely another thing, and unacceptable, for them to fan the flames with threats of state investigations of the system and legislation creating an elected school board. It's clear their interest in all this is tied to the fact that their re-election campaigns are just a year away.

Still, you don't have to be a political opportunist to feel that the controversy surrounding the county school system has gotten out of hand. A new board president might go a long way toward calming things down and selling what even Dr. Berger's critics admit are first-rate education programs. Implementing these ideas more gradually might not be to the liking of the impatient Dr. Berger. But it might be his only hope if he really wants to keep his job.

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