School Board: Silence Isn't Golden ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

October 01, 1993

The Board of Education had no choice last week but to delay its ruling on the fate of Superintendent C. Berry Carter, because an investigator's report on his role in the Ronald W. Price sex scandal is not finished. But they do have a choice about how they handle the public relations aspect of this mess while they await the findings. And so far they are botching it big time. Indeed, they are sending disturbing signals that, even after the report is done, they will not share the information.

Just about everyone with an interest in public education was waiting to know what happened at the board's marathon closed-door session a week ago; nothing less than the future of the school system was hanging in the balance. The fact that the board adjourned without acting on the status of Mr. Carter, whom it placed on paid administrative leave July 31, did not mean it had nothing to say to the public; quite the contrary.

For one thing, board members could have explained why the decision had to be delayed. They could have offered reassurances that they are serious about not letting Mr. Carter's status in limbo drag on indefinitely; also, that they are equally serious about giving the superintendent a fair hearing regarding his responsiveness to the fact that former teacher Price was having sex with students.

They could have tried to elicit public confidence by imparting some sense that they did more in that five-hour meeting than merely bicker about whether Mr. Carter should stay or go. They could have promised to share Mr. Baron's findings as soon as they were complete. Instead, the board emerged with nothing more than a "no comment," saying it had discussed a confidential personnel matter.

The Carter situation is not a mere personnel matter, but a matter of how the school system will be run and whether people can invest their trust in it. The board's lack of comment exacerbates JTC fear, implying that something so terrible is going on that it must be kept secret. And its unwillingness to take the public into its confidence now gives us no reason to believe it will be completely open and honest even when it does have all the information.

If board members want people's trust, they must learn to treat them as partners in the quest for better education, not as intruders who don't deserve a clue about what's going on.

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