For C. Berry Carter II, this past year as superintendent should have been the crowning moment in a lifetime of devotion to the Anne Arundel County public school system.
The proverbial bridesmaid, passed over three times for the superintendency, Mr. Carter mounted a strong campaign last year to succeed Larry Lorton. A fractious board narrowly chose him for the top spot over Cheryl Wilhoyte, the school system's assistant superintendent for instruction.
In July 1992, after 38 years in the system -- 18 years as the No. 2 man -- Mr. Carter had finally reached the top.
A little more than a year later, however, he found himself accused of essentially trying to protect the system he loved: keeping quiet in 1987 about allegations that a Northeast High School teacher was having sex with students. As deputy superintendent at the time, it was his responsibility to discipline teachers for misconduct.
A probe ordered by state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick concluded that Mr. Carter failed to report those allegations to police and social services -- a violation of state law. A more in-depth investigation was ordered. Mr. Carter was placed on paid leave July 31.
Tuesday night, after developing his written and oral rebuttal to the allegations made in the second report, Mr. Carter abruptly, and without explanation, resigned. Charges that he failed to correct any situation he knew was wrong astounds those who know Mr. Carter well.
"He was a disciplined person, very conscious of his health and exercise. A real straight fellow in his thinking," said Joseph Alton, former Anne Arundel county executive whose nephews were taught by Mr. Carter. "Morally, I can't believe he could condone something like that. There is nothing in his character to suggest he would intentionally let something like that go on. He was always more inclined to take action than anyone else."
During periods when school superintendents didn't always get along with school boards or county executives, Mr. Carter emerged as its chief lobbyist in the legislature and the halls of county government.
"He was the guy you talked to, the guy that handled problems and expedited things," said state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-Ferndale. The two men met when Mr. Carter, as deputy superintendent, lobbied hard on behalf of the Green Street Coalition, a consortium of local boards of education.
"Everybody counted on him and went to him with problems. Like most government employees, he's cautious, he's not a risk-taker and he plays by the rules," said Mr. Wagner. "He's a seasoned pro in dealing with problems in the school system, and those
problems often are very sensitive."
A lot of problems in schools, or any company, are handled in-house, Mr. Wagner noted, which may explain why Mr. Carter was hesitant to approach the authorities when allegations surfaced against teachers.
"I don't know if his thinking was maybe to keep it under cover, and try to handle it in-house and not have a lot of publicity. He's handled hundreds of problems over the years, and in a lot of cases that involves doing what you have to do in-house," Mr. Wagner said. "But who knew the roof would blow off Northeast?"
A sequence of events that began to unfold in April at Northeast High School in Pasadena rocked the school system to its foundation, as an admitted child abuser went on national television to insist the school system knew of his proclivities and did nothing to stop him.
Northeast teacher Ronald W. Price was sentenced this month to 26 years in prison on three counts of child sex abuse. A state probe this summer concluded Mr. Carter had been informed in a 1987 memo of Mr. Price's illicit activities with teen-age girls, but neither social services nor the police were notified.
Mr. Carter, 61, has refused to comment publicly on any allegations, but has maintained that he always "did what I thought in my heart was best" in his 38 years with the system.
A graduate of Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., C. Berry Carter II was hired by the county schools in 1954 to teach English and social studies at Brooklyn Park Junior-Senior High School, then later moved to Annapolis Junior High School. He became a guidance counselor at Annapolis Junior in 1958. Four years later, he was promoted to a position in the central office as a "pupil personnel worker" -- a job providing counseling and problem-solving services to students, parents and school staff.
In 1964, Mr. Carter moved up again, to the post of administrative assistant to then-Superintendent David Jenkins.
Mr. Carter's main duties were to help develop the school system's budget and to lobby on education issues. He also wrote the system's policy on drugs, and, in response to campus disruptions in the 1960s, developed a crisis-intervention team trained to provide a quick response to schools in trouble.
Then came his first shot at the superintendent's job.