Task force chief disappointed that school board rejected advice BALTIMORE COUNTY

September 18, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

By rejecting the advice of the investigative task force it appointed, the Baltimore County school board is missing a chance to heal the troubled school system and restore confidence in the board and Superintendent Stuart Berger, the task force chairman said yesterday.

"I think our document can be a valuable document and can have a healing effect," said Baltimore attorney Sanford V. Teplitzky. "The school board's response did not seize that opportunity.

"My view is that our report could have been used as a vehicle for moving forward, and it wasn't used that way. I find it personally disappointing," he said of the board's response to the report. That response addressed the task force's 11 recommendations, but did not say the board would adopt many of them.

Another task force member, retired Associate Judge James S. Sfekas said he, too, was disappointed in, and unhappy with, the board's response.

"I don't think they [board members] addressed the concerns that we had as a task force. I don't think they addressed the concerns of the public," he said. It was Judge Sfekas who wrote a letter, separate from the group report, asking the board to remove Dr. Berger.

Task force member Susan Leviton was less critical. "I do think that they [the school board] will be more inclusive of the community," she said.

Although the board rejected recommendations for independent ombudsmen to deal with complaints of unfair treatment by administrators and parents of special education students, it did agree to expand the membership of the citizens' advisory board on special education and have it report directly to the board.

With such access, that group may be able to do some of the work of an ombudsman and bring parents' concerns to the board's attention, Ms. Leviton suggested.

"I think that they are trying. I just think that their response was a little legalistic. It sounds like a lawyer wrote it," said Ms. Leviton, a law professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.

The other two task force members, Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, and Martha Smith, president of Dundalk Community College, said they could not comment because they had not read the response.

At the board's direction, the independent task force studied two issues that have caused upheaval in the school system for months -- the demotion of about 40 administrators and the transfer of hundreds of disabled children from special education centers to neighborhood schools, often against their parents' wishes.

The lengthy report was highly critical of Dr. Berger, saying the subjective process used to transfer administrators created "an atmosphere of intimidation and fear" and that the special education changes were "ill-planned and poorly communicated."

The report also chided the board for ignoring the detrimental effects of these methods or failing to understand them.

Mr. Teplitzky said he had not spoken to other task force members about the board's response and was speaking only for himself. He said task force members might issue a joint statement next week.

"It's too important to make a hasty statement about," he said.

The board's response "doesn't deal with the overriding issue -- restoring confidence in the school system and the school board," he added.

The board did say it would review the policy and rules implemented in March for transferring school administrators; examine, and revamp if necessary, the performance evaluation process; and instruct the administration to give more training to all employees who evaluate others.

But the board declined to establish ombudsmen to hear personnel and special education complaints, and to bring the personnel policy and rule changes before the board again.

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