Hayden bill reflects rift with Berger

March 03, 1994|By Larry Carson and Mary Maushard | Larry Carson and Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writers

Relations between Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden and school Superintendent Stuart Berger are so strained that Mr. Hayden wants a state law forcing school officials to give him quick answers to his budget questions.

The superintendent and school board oppose the bill because it tries to mandate something that "reasonable people ought to be able to work out," said Calvin Disney, vice president of the board.

Mr. Hayden, Dr. Berger and their camps are scheduled to battle over the proposal this afternoon before the county's Senate delegation in Annapolis.

Tension is traditional between county executives and school boards because the board has the authority to adopt its budget and run the schools but must depend on the executive and county council for tax money.

In Baltimore County, the tension has become a cold war.

The bill in question (SB 604) will drag state lawmakers into a local fight that began last year when Hayden administration officials complained that the school system wouldn't provide answers to its budget questions. School officials countered that Mr. Hayden and his top aides wouldn't meet with them.

The fight culminated last April, when Mr. Hayden quietly chopped the $500,000 that had been approved to re-equip and reopen Sudbrook Middle School near Pikesville as a magnet school -- money he restored after protests from school officials and the community.

County Budget Director Fred Homan said the problem has worsened this year. Relations between Mr. Hayden and Dr. Berger, which were never cordial, are frostier than ever.

"It's impossible to communicate with the county executive," Dr. Berger said last month when he announced his $572 million budget for next year.

"We should be able to get our answers," Mr. Hayden said. He argued that his bill, which requires the school system to respond to questions within 10 days, would merely make someone "accountable" for information he needs to prepare his budget.

"This is not an issue that speaks to control," he said.

The board's legislative liaison, George Poff, said board members don't "want changes in the education law that implies they are not doing their job right."

Dr. Berger had little to say earlier this week about the bill. "We'll do the rest of our talking on Thursday," he said.

County Council Chairman William A. Howard IV, a 6th District Republican, said he would show up to support the bill and to ask that the council auditor be included with the executive.

His main complaint, he said, is that constituents worried about school budget decisions are fed "propaganda" by school officials, who he said obscure their budget decisions by blaming them on administration and council budget cuts.

School officials say they have asked repeatedly for meetings with administration officials this year, with no results. Mr. Disney said he and board President Alan Leberknight met twice with the county executive and asked Mr. Hayden to meet individually with Dr. Berger.

"He said he would, but that meeting has not taken place," Mr. Disney said.

Mr. Homan and Mr. Hayden said the administration submitted 100 budget questions to school officials in September and agreed that answers to 75 could wait until after the school board voted on the budget.

Answers to the first 25 questions were more than a month in arriving, they said, and Mr. Homan said he is still waiting for answers to the other 75 questions. The board approved the superintendent's budget request with minor changes on Feb. 23.

In addition, Mr. Hayden said, he waited eight weeks for an answer to the question of how Dr. Berger was able to manipulate his budget to hire 100 more teachers than were originally allotted.

"There's no effort on the part of the board or the superintendent not to supply information," Mr. Disney countered. "Mr. Homan has infinitely more resources to generate questions than we have resources to respond. He has seven budget analysts in his office; we have one."

Mr. Disney said it was his understanding that the superintendent's staff is still working on the remaining 75 questions.

He added that the administration bears some responsibility for VTC the school system's response time. "For three straight years, they have reduced the request for computers and personnel necessary to upgrade [recordkeeping]," he said.

When he was on the school board from 1974 to 1986, Mr. Hayden said, the county executive's questions were answered without delay.

Asked why communications are worse than ever now, he said, "I don't know. It's phases of the moon."

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