After the task force report

September 02, 1993

With the opening of the new school year just days away in Baltimore County, it's time again for those old three Rs: Rage, rhetoric and revenge.

Now that the school board-appointed task force has delivered a report critical of county superintendent Dr. Stuart Berger, it's like June all over again when the only thing that could dislodge the Berger controversy from the headlines was . . . Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston. The task force report will reawaken the critics, get the talk radio sap flowing and give the myopic leadership of the teachers' union more ammunition.

What if the critics do get Dr. Berger's head on a platter, what then? The county school system would still have to confront its languid stance on mainstreaming special education students. It would still have the most bloated middle management among Maryland public schools. It would still have the state's largest imbalance between the percentage of minority students and minority teachers. And it would still have to cope with social and demographic changes that challenge its staff in ways that confront other urban, not suburban, teachers.

Dr. Berger is energetic and craves innovation. Would the county prefer a superintendent who speaks educationese, quietly stays the course and just pockets a fat paycheck?

Dr. Berger's biggest and most self-defeating fault is his difficulty performing in the public arena. After the much-awaited task force report was released, he replied, "no comment . . . it's not my task force." After a group of well-meaning parents lost their lawsuit to block the special education inclusion plan, he replied coldly, "this baby's over." The people advising Dr. Berger on public relations need to be canned, not the superintendent.

For its part, the task force made several good points. If Dr. Berger disregarded previous written reviews of principals because they were consistently inflated, administrators will have take the evaluation process more seriously from now on. The creation of an ombudsman is also a good suggestion.

The task force's conclusions strengthened a viewpoint that many had already reached: Baltimore County schools must do a better job of working with the public in implementing long-range change. But by not calling for the superintendent's removal, the task force also understood that Baltimore County cannot afford to be devoid of leadership or direction as a new school year begins.

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