Can this marriage be saved?

October 08, 1993

It was a preliminary get-together, a feeling-each-other-out kind of meeting, that the Baltimore County Board of Education and the board of directors of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County (TABCO) held last Tuesday. We can't help likening it to the first session of marriage counseling for a couple that has put one another through some rough times but still wants to work things out.

With the participants still warming to their task, nothing of major importance was resolved at the three-hour confab. The two boards talked fairly calmly about some of the issues that have left the school system swimming in controversy for much of 1993 -- the inclusion of special education students into regular schools, the recommendations of a task force formed by the school board, personnel evaluations and site-based management.

In something of a concession, the school board said that it is reconsidering three of the 11 task force recommendations it had tossed aside. Board members vowed to report back soon on whether they'll agree to hire a school system ombudsman, to increase and diversify the membership of a citizens' advisory committee on special education, and to bolster the training of administrators who evaluate school staffers.

Hiring an ombudsman would be a smart move. However, to avoid the appearance of paying lip service to the concept, the school board must name someone without close ties to the administration. The appointee must also be guaranteed that he or she will be taken seriously by school officials.

Maybe Tuesday's meeting wasn't Rabin and Arafat shaking hands at the White House. It's encouraging, though, because the participants held a civil discussion in an apparently sincere effort to move the system beyond the babble and bad blood that have engulfed it for months. No doubt the new mood is aided by the fact that two key figures from the previous school year -- ex-school board president Rosalie Hellman and ex-TABCO president Ed Veit -- have been replaced by fresh troops with better diplomacy skills, Alan Leberknight of the school board and Ray Suarez of TABCO. The two men, in fact, have been meeting regularly since assuming their respective posts three months ago.

That's heartening, as is the boards' pledge to meet three more times this year, which would be three more times than they did last year. Yes, the school system has some problems to work out. But the rapprochement of the two boards shows that this marriage, which must be saved, can be saved.

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