County colleges take the offensive Stung by controversies, trustee board invites Ruppersberger to meeting

April 25, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

Stung by recent controversy over policies and fiscal accountability, the trustees of Baltimore County's community colleges launched a counteroffensive last night by inviting County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III to their monthly meeting at Essex Community College.

The trustees also decided that they must undertake a better public relations effort "to tell our side of the story," said board Chairman Ronald G. Abe.

Mr. Ruppersberger's brief appearance marked the first time in the 40-year history of the three colleges -- Essex, Dundalk and Catonsville -- that a county executive attended a trustees meeting.

Mr. Ruppersberger took the opportunity to send a message to the Board of Education as well as to the trustees by emphasizing his desire for "open relationships" between county and education fiscal officers.

Lamenting the "bickering every year" among the county administration, the County Council and the school board during his nine years on the council, the executive said, "If we can get together earlier on these issues rather than at the last minute, everything will work out.

"These are tough times but we will manage the best we can," Mr. Ruppersberger said, pledging his cooperation.

Condemning the "selfish thinking that permeates our country," the county executive said Baltimore County and the colleges, fared well in the recently ended General Assembly, as it did last year, "because the citizens of Baltimore County came together as a team. The delegates and senators worked as a team in Annapolis, and it's the best two years we've had for a long time."

"Call the County Council together and tell them what you told us," commented Mr. Abe.

The board chairman was referring apparently to reports that some council members were discussing the possible closure of Dundalk Community College and that others were upset at the Towson office set up by Dr. Daniel J. LaVista, the chancellor, as he reorganized the three colleges into a single system under his authority.

The county's successes in the General Assembly included a bill signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to improve the funding formula for community colleges, which Mr. Abe said will bring many thousands of dollars to the three colleges.

Trustee John R. Schneider said the success was helped in large measure "because the community colleges spoke with one voice this session."

After the county executive left, Mr. Abe raised controversial issues, such as spending by Dr. La- Vista and certain board actions, such as placing computers in the homes of the trustees when they could be used by students.

Never before have the colleges faced "the problem" of such scrutiny by the governor, the legislature, county politicians and The Sun, Mr. Abe said.

"For whatever reason, state and local politicians as well as the Sunpaper [have] decided that they will have a say in how education monies are spent. I personally think that this is mainly related to everyone's frustration with accountability in public education," he said.

Mr. Abe said that school boards and college trustees will have to learn to live with these new demands for accountability.

The chairman appointed trustee Elayne Hettleman to meet with Deborah M. Hudson, the colleges' new public relations director, to produce by the next meeting "a quick, clear review that will allow our board and colleges to begin to deal with this problem. What I am looking for is a series of recommendations on how to cope with this problem."

As he left to attend an executive session on personnel matters, Mr. Abe acknowledged, "we have to do a better job of giving them information. We want to get out there and tell our story."

Pub Date: 4/25/96

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