Krebs is viewed as a force of change

School system critic likely to lead board

January 07, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Board of Education is expected this week to elect Susan W. Krebs president of the five-member board, overturning the board's power structure and installing as its leader the woman who has been the system's most vocal critic.

The vote will likely please the hundreds of parents, teachers and students who have sought out Krebs during her term, calling and sending e-mail with complaints and concerns that they said had fallen on deaf ears before her tenure on the board.

But the vote also has sent ripples of uncertainty through the ranks of the central office and the community, leaving them to wonder what the ascendance of the board's most tenacious micro-manager would mean for the 27,500-student system.

In interviews with the board's members, longtime member Gary W. Bauer and newcomers Thomas G. Hiltz and Susan Holt said they will vote Wednesday for Krebs as president. Outgoing president C. Scott Stone said he has not decided how he will vote.

Hiltz will likely earn the board's support to serve as vice president.

"I'm looking forward to a clean slate, a new year and a new board, the majority of which are committed to redefining themselves and dedicating their time to the students of our county," said Krebs, 41, of Eldersburg, who has children in Carroll elementary, middle and high schools. "We have a new [interim] superintendent and a staff that is ready and willing to work and that is looking for leadership ... and direction."

After winning her seat in the 1998 election, Krebs quickly snatched the spotlight from the rest of the board, demanding accountability and second-guessing everything the administration did. More often that not, she found herself on the losing side of 4-1 votes on key board decisions, such as the panel's approval of a new Westminster high school and its vote of confidence for former Superintendent William H. Hyde.

Critics - including her board colleagues - have complained that she has held up the panel's meetings to grill school administrators and has considered only her point of view.

Officials bristled each time she publicly rebuked them for being unconcerned about bungled school construction projects that made the school system the target of multimillion-dollar lawsuits and a 19-month grand jury investigation, and for waiting three months to discuss an internal investigation that cost the board more than $200,000.

Last month, as 10-year member Ann M. Ballard publicly bid farewell to her colleagues at their monthly meeting, she said she had "never been embarrassed to be a member of this board" - apparently a parting shot at Krebs, who has more than once said that of her colleagues.

Although some say they worry Krebs might use her position to become even more critical, others applaud her efforts and say they hope the school system will improve under her board leadership. "She is a very bright lady who has asked a lot of the right questions and, in the past, has not been satisfied by simplistic answers to complex problems," said Gary L. Dunkleberger, a former assistant superintendent who is in his third year as principal of North Carroll High. "I think she will do an excellent job."

Dunkleberger recalled when his school recently held its annual Shadow-A-Teacher Day, Krebs said she had done that the year before. This year, she said, she wanted to shadow a student. "I found it refreshing in that, as an institution, we're about kids," he said. "That gave her a very interesting kid's-eye perspective, because with the two students we paired her up with, she got to see ... firsthand what a kid experiences in a normal day in a high school. I found that refreshing in that I guess I hear her coming from a `What's good for kids?' perspective."

Focusing on students

Jean Wasmer, president of the Carroll County Council of PTAs, agreed. "I know she'll do a good job in that she is completely dedicated to the system," she said. "If she stays focused on the kids ... , I know she'll do a good job."

Cindy Cummings, president of the local teachers union, concurred that Krebs will provide good leadership.

"I know Susan has always been very upfront about concerns that people brought to her, and she has brought them to the attention of the Board of Education," she said. "I think she'll continue to do so, and maybe we'll see some changes in the board meetings."

Krebs said she has changes in mind. She expects next month's board meeting - the first under her presidency - to look and sound much different.

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