Baltimore County's political pile-on

July 08, 1993

Stuart Berger was sitting in his Greenwood office three weeks ago reflecting on what, to that point, had been a tumultuous first year as superintendent of the Baltimore County public school system. At least, he said, the politicians "have been amazing. I expected to take much more heat from the politicians."

Dr. Berger spoke too soon.

State legislators now have smelled blood -- and votes. They want in on the feeding frenzy.

Members of the county delegation in Annapolis grilled the superintendent and school board last Tuesday when the board named a new president, bank executive Alan Leberknight, to replace embattled Rosalie Hellman. The board also announced it had empowered a task force of some of the most recognizable names in the county to review two actions that have brought the most scorn to Dr. Berger's administration: removing hundreds of handicapped students from special schools into mainstream classes and reassigning dozens of principals and assistants.

The board's decision to appoint a blue-ribbon panel to examine such day-to-day operations is an unusual display of micro-management. Nevertheless, it seems a necessary and positive step, given all the distrust and anger that has built up.

Yet that wasn't enough for some pols. Sen. F. Vernon Boozer waved the prospect of an elected school board over Dr. Berger's head like the sword of Damocles if the superintendent, in his view, didn't shape up. Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell urged the school board to return the system to its pre-Berger days in the errant belief that the county -- with the fattest school middle-management in the state -- had just about an ideal system back then.

As a recent Evening Sun article pointed out, Baltimore County is at a crossroads -- about to pass the city in population but losing its young, middle-class families to more distant suburbs. Housing stock and housing costs are prime factors driving out these families, but an innovative education system, offering programs such as magnet schools and all-day kindergarten, might help retain many of them.

Meanwhile, the county gets older, poorer and is in the economic development doldrums. Baltimore County's politicos don't seem able or willing to offer the community solutions to these structural problems. They're wrong if they think serving up Stuart Berger's head on a platter would be an acceptable substitute.

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