Report faulting Berger, board due more study BALTIMORE COUNTY

September 09, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

The Baltimore County school board will meet behind closed doors tonight to continue deliberations on an investigative task force report that criticized Superintendent Stuart Berger and the board itself.

The meeting, to be held at 6 p.m. at Pikesville Middle School, will be closed to the public because the board will be discussing legal and personnel issues raised in the report, said Alan Leberknight, board president.

"I anticipate something coming out of [tonight's] meeting, but I can't tell you when it will come out," he said. "I want to do it right."

At Tuesday night's regularly scheduled board meeting, Mr. Leberknight said he had worked on the report every night since it was issued last week. "I was either involved in a meeting or on the phone, working on that report," he said. "It has not been forgotten."

Mr. Leberknight asked those who have criticized the board for not responding immediately to judge the board's good intentions by the fact that it convened the task force in response to serious and continued criticism of changes in the school system.

He said the task force's independence was evident in the critical tone of its report, which dealt with the demotions or transfers of 40 administrators and the transfers of hundreds of disabled children from special education centers to neighborhood schools, often against their parents' wishes.

The task force made 11 recommendations for healing the school system. They included establishing a meaningful evaluation system for administrators, a policy that personnel decisions be based on performance and the appointment of two ombudsmen. One would review school system employees' allegations that they have been victims of retaliation, and another would investigate parents' complaints about the placement of disabled youngsters.

After a five-hour, closed door meeting last week, the board issued a statement saying it would not comment on the task force report or on the recommendations it included, because of pending legal action on both issues.

During the public comment session of Tuesday's board meeting, Ray Suarez, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said he was "disappointed in [Mr. Leberknight's] comments about the task force. The board said its response would be rapid. A timely response is needed to restore confidence. Time is not only money, it's confidence, it's apathy, it's cynicism."

He was supported by Shirley Giberson, founder of the parents' group PRIDE, which has heaped criticism on Dr. Berger and the board for what it calls arrogance and unwillingness to listen to parents.

"We're asking you not to spend forever on the 11 recommendations. Give us justice; give us some acknowledgment that you goofed" in hiring Dr. Berger, Mrs. Giberson said.

Throughout the Tuesday meeting, several PRIDE members displayed signs calling for Dr. Berger's firing.

In a related matter, attorneys for the families and groups that filed a federal lawsuit to block the special education transfers have asked again to meet with school officials to resolve their differences out of court.

In a letter this week to Leslie Stellman, the school board's attorney, the plaintiffs' lawyers said their clients "strongly desire to arrive at a plan that, on the one hand, secures the rights of all parents and children whose interests are being advanced in [the suit] and, on the other, achieves a minimum amount of disruption all parents, children and teachers."

Mr. Stellman was unavailable for comment yesterday. Dr. Berger and the school system turned down an offer to negotiate when the suit was filed.

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