Baltimore County Council Chairman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III sharply criticized the school board yesterday for its response to an investigative task force and said the board must work harder to stabilize a school system "that has experienced significant damage to its credibility and trustworthiness in the past year".
Mr. Ruppersberger said the board missed an opportunity to restore confidence in the school system when it rejected many recommendations from the task force it appointed after months of controversy involving teachers and parents.
The board appointed the panel to look into the transfer or demotion of 40 longtime administrators and a decision to move hundreds of disabled children from special education centers to neighborhood schools, often against their parents' wishes.
One of the task force's main recommendations was appointing two independent ombudsmen, one to review complaints from teachers, the other to hear complaints from parents who can't get problems solved through normal channels. The board rejected that proposal.
Mr. Ruppersberger, a 3rd District Democrat, said he met with several members of the board since its response to the task force report came out last week and recommended that an ombudsman position be created.
"I am challenging the board to facilitate openness in the county school system by creating this position," Mr. Ruppersberger said in a statement read at the conclusion of last night's County Council meeting.
Mr. Ruppersberger said he felt the harshness of his statement was necessary to impress upon the board the seriousness of the crises in the school system. He said that while the board's response was positive, it didn't go far enough.
"The board members seemed to feel they had adequately responded to the task force report and seemed surprised that their response was so misunderstood," he said.
School Board President Alan Leberknight last night strongly reiterated that discussions on the task force report are continuing and that the board's response last week "as stated in the final paragraph of our written response is just the opening dialogue.
"I think unfortunately that perhaps the public misread our response," Mr. Leberknight said. Although he acknowledged there has been opposition and some turmoil in the system, he felt that many positive things are happening within the school system.
"Dutch is entitled to his opinion and I always respect what he has to say," Mr. Leberknight said.