Community college report hits target Board must change: Baltimore County system needs reforms of operations, leadership.

September 23, 1997

A SCATHING critique of Baltimore County's troubled community college system is like few studies we have seen. Conducted by a panel of highly qualified educators, it is thorough and shockingly blunt, exposing flaws in college operations and the ineptitude of high-ranking officials in a way not even the most staunch defender of the status quo can ignore.

One choice sample: ''The major problem is clearly the Board of Trustees, with several unenlightened, hostile members who are abetted . . . by a few even less informed elected officials.''

The study was commissioned months ago by board president and former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly after he was asked to straighten out long-standing questions about how the three-campus system should be run, and a mess that began when the board and controversial Chancellor Daniel J. LaVista differed over reorganization strategies. By the time the board fired Dr. LaVista last winter, contentions between it and faculty had become intolerable.

It was clear then that certain things had to change, including the triplication of services, funding for basic educational materials and the board itself. The report confirms all this.

It notes that certain academic and administrative services should be centralized. Competing and underused programs should be eliminated. The report makes a strong case for replacing the three college presidents, in Catonsville, Essex and Dundalk, with provosts; the schools would keep their identities, but taxpayers would save $750,000 annually.

The report found that the proportion of money spent on personnel, as opposed to computers, libraries and technological equipment, is higher than the national standard. That will need to change, regardless of whether the state and county provide more money for these items.

It is equally clear that some members of the Board of Trustees have to go, including a few who are products of an old system in which county senators appointed friends without adequate skills. The board's callous treatment of faculty, poor lobbying skills and continued resistance to reform show that some senators have not taken the responsibilities of their job seriously.

The panel suggests weakening the senators' influence by involving the county executive and County Council in selecting the board. That is a good idea, like most of the recommendations in this extraordinary report.

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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