Judge upholds plan to transfer disabled students Shuffle of principals called 'subjective'

August 13, 1993|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff Writer

Baltimore County Superintendent Stuart Berger reassigned or demoted about 40 principals and assistants based on recommenda- tions of top administrators and gave "virtually no weight" to performance evaluations, an investigation concludes.

A six-member panel, which released preliminary findings last night, said Dr. Berger based decisions solely on the "subjective recommendations of 14 individuals sitting around a conference table."

Also, the panel said, the district might have violated state and federal law by moving hundreds of disabled students from special education centers into neighborhood schools before completing a required annual review of individual students' needs and by failing to include required information in reviews that had been performed.

A task force investigating the superintendent's moves at the direction of the school board president hired the panel. It consists of an attorney, a special education expert and four law students.

Baltimore attorney Michael Foreman, a specialist in employment discrimination, outlined findings on the administrator moves for the task force and about 120 people at a meeting in County

Council chambers in Towson.

"Virtually no weight was given to the individuals' performance as reflected in the employees' performance evaluations," he said.

When interviewed by the panel, Dr. Berger said he considered the evaluations "not particularly relevant" because most of those transferred or demoted had "outstanding" reviews, Mr. Foreman said.

Dr. Berger refused to comment on the panel's findings last night.

The transfers stunned many of those affected because they believed school rules prevented the superintendent from removing employees from positions without proving just cause and receiving school board approval, Mr. Foreman said.

The policy had required that employees be notified of a transfer or demotion, that it be based on a performance evaluation and that they be given a chance to improve performance before being moved.

But in late March, Dr. Berger quietly sought and received board approval to eliminate those transfer or demotion requirements, clearing the way for him to implement the moves.

But neither Dr. Berger nor the board made any effort to tell the affected employees, who learned of the rule change only when they were told in June of their impending moves, Mr. Foreman said.

The administrators who recommended the changes met in early April, suggesting that principals and assistants be promoted, demoted or left in their existing jobs, Dr. Berger told the panel. Mr. Foreman said Dr. Berger conceded the process was "very subjective" and argued that many of the principals and assistant principals had to be moved because they lacked commitment to "site-based management," giving schools more autonomy and accountability.

Dr. Berger moved others because they had poor "interpersonal skills" or lacked "vision," Mr. Foreman said.

Board President Alan Leberknight set up the task force to look into the demotions and reassignments, as well as the transferring of special education students.

"The process of determining where these students are placed . . . may be seriously flawed," said Margaret Kiley, a Towson State University professor who presented the panel's findings last night.

Many of the parents the panel interviewed refused to give their names because of "concerns of retaliation against their children if they persisted in opposing changes in placement," Mrs. Kiley said.

"Parents were genuinely disturbed with where their children would go. Will the services be provided? Will the support staff be there?"

The task force is to review the panel's findings before making its recommendations to the school board by September, said Sanford Teplitzky, task force chairman.

"Members of the task force were obviously concerned about what we heard tonight," said Mr. Teplitzky, adding he is withholding further comment until the report is finalized.

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