Time to Reach Out

July 18, 1993

The people have spoken -- roared, actually. So adjustments are being made in the operation of the Baltimore County school )) system.

The main change has been the school board's selection of member Alan Leberknight, chief executive of the Bank of Baltimore, to replace Rosalie Hellman as president. As caustic as Mrs. Hellman can be, that's how smooth Mr. Leberknight is. Don't expect him to shut doors at open meetings. His experience as a corporate leader should ensure that the board will be more conscious of the need to sell its programs to the public.

Previously, the board and School Superintendent Stuart Berger showed themselves to be all too unconscious. Their first and worst mistake was assuming the reforms in the "Great Expectations for 2000" report would be embraced simply because they had been drafted under former Superintendent Robert Dubel. Admitting that error now, Mr. Leberknight vows the board will be more closely involved with the system's daily workings, and do a better job of informing parents, teachers and principals about changes before they're made.

As the board has come to understand -- and has acknowledged by picking a new president -- there are people all over the county outraged over events of the past year. They're so upset, they might be satisfied only with the banishment of Dr. Berger and the entire board. Mr. Leberknight says that won't happen, and rightly so. The school board must not let itself be dictated to by over-reacting citizens and opportunistic politicians.

Meanwhile, the board has named a task force of local heavy-hitters to study the key controversies of the year -- inclusion for special education students and the demotion of about 40 administrators. The task force report is due by Aug. 10.

Dr. Berger is made nervous by the creation of the panel, even hinting that a damning report might push him to resign. Yet we believe the formation of the task force, while unprecedented for internal management issues, is a wise move.

It is increasingly clear that most -- though not all -- of the critics have less of a beef with the current agenda of reforms than with the sloppy, sometimes arrogant way it has been implemented. If this task force can help get matters under control and soothe the angry feelings many county residents have for school officials, then it's a step in the right direction.

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