Election issue raised Lawmakers assail Baltimore County school board

September 17, 1993|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

The Baltimore County school board's response to a task force report criticizing Superintendent Dr. Stuart Berger has renewed calls for changing the way board members are selected.

One state legislator has proposed modifying the school board's selection process, and the head of the Teachers' Association of Baltimore County (TABCO) has scheduled an informal discussion Monday to assess legislative support for several proposed bills calling for an elected school board.

State Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, said he will meet with school board members, including board President Alan Leberknight, to discuss the board's response to the task force report. The response was released Wednesday.

"I'm going to be looking for the kind of answers from these board members that we should have gotten in its response," said Mr. Bromwell, who chairs the county's senate delegation.

The board brushed aside many of the recommendations made by the independent task force it appointed this summer to investigate transfers of administrators and changes in placements of children with disabilities.

James S. Sfekas, a retired Baltimore County Circuit Court judge and task force member, said he was "not happy" with the board's response.

"I don't think they addressed the concerns we had as a task force," he said. "I don't think they addressed the concerns of the public."

Del. E. Farrell Maddox, a District 6 Democrat, who chairs the county's House delegation, was particularly disturbed that the board rejected the suggestion of hiring two independent ombudsmen.

"What harm is there in having an ombudsman," he asked. "To totally reject that recommendation shows a blatant disregard for the task force report and for the parents and teachers in our system."

Mr. Maddox said he, too, will be meeting with school board

members.

State Del. John J. Bishop said he will prefile a bill next week to make the current school board selection process law.

Baltimore County school board members are nominated by a grass-roots nomination convention, which sends the names to the governor, who then appoints the members. State law mandates that the governor appoint the county's school board members. The nominating process is not mandated by law.

Mr. Bishop's bill also would require the governor to pick from the three recommendations the nominating convention sends him. Currently, the governor is not bound to follow the convention's recommendations.

"This strengthens a process that I think has worked well," said Mr. Bishop. "Requiring the governor to follow the convention's recommendations should insure more accountability from the board."

State senators Janice Piccinini and Michael J. Collins, both Democrats, and State Del. Joseph Bartenfelder, a District 8 Democrat, already have drafted bills to make the county school board an elected body. They said they are now likely to introduce the bills for the next General Assembly session.

Until now, county legislators have shown little support for an elected school board.

"I've always been against an elected school board," Mr. Bromwell said. "But if the only solution to the way the board and Dr. Berger are handling this crisis is to have an elected school board, I might have to support it. I just hope if we go that way, we don't find out down the road that we have thrown out the baby with the bath water."

Mr. Bromwell said he didn't know if his colleagues had changed their minds, "But I know they are growing more and more frustrated with the current school board."

Mrs. Piccinini said she will file her bill only if it is supported by the County Council of PTAs. Mr. Collins and Mr. Bartenfelder, mindful there might not be enough support for an elected school board, said that at least their bills would produce a public debate.

State Sen. F. Vernon Boozer said his constituents called constantly yesterday after hearing news accounts of the school board's response.

NTC "[They] are outraged, and I am outraged about how the school board can sweep aside all of the outstanding work of the task force as if it was nothing," said the Towson Republican.

TASK FORCE REPORT

The report of the task force that investigated concerns raised about Dr. Stuart Berger's management of the Baltimore County school system is available free of charge from Sunfax. To obtain a copy, call (410) 332-6123 and enter the four-digit code 5010. It will take approximately 30 minutes to receive the 62-page report.

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