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New school chief takes charge, facing difficult budget realities


The beginning of school traditionally conjures up thoughts of newly sharpened pencils, crisp binders of paper, and excited and eager students.

The addition of a new school superintendent can add to the excitement, and it also can generate feelings of apprehension among teachers, parents and students alike, except when the new superintendent isn't so new.

C. Berry Carter II, a 34-year veteran of the county schools, has been lauded by parents and politicians as the man who may be able to bring the school system and the county government together because of his knowledge of the school system and his experience lobbying the General Assembly for the schools.

But those same people also agree that Mr. Carter, formerly the deputy superintendent, is in for a tough year in his new job as superintendent.

"Our agendas have pretty much been set by someone else," Mr. Carter said last week. "We have national goals set for the year 2000. But we'll still do things our way."

Last year's $8 million cut in state aid and the prospect of additional, and possibly more severe budget cuts, this year have tempered the excitement that traditionally comes with the beginning of a school year.

While school officials say they are running business as usual, they concede they are concerned that the next round of budget cuts could seriously harm education programs.

Even before the start of school, Mr. Carter faced the loss of $140,000 in state money for non-mandated programs. He asked the school board to eliminate funding for the Early Elementary Education Program at Glendale Elementary School in Glen Burnie. But after protests from parents, the board voted to save the program.

Last weekend, Gov. William Donald Schaefer warned local jurisdictions of additional, sweeping budget cuts as he announced a projected $500 million deficit.

Mr. Carter said he will do all he can to save all school programs, but added that those that are not mandated may have to go if the budget gets any tighter.

"It's fine to talk about these innovative and visionary programs, but if we don't have the money we're not going to do it," Mr. Carter said. "I've been told by people who are supposed to know about [budget cuts] another shoe is ready to drop. Now we see it's really a boot.

"We've been told to tighten up, do more with less, do more with less. That begins to wear thin," he adds.

But what may keep the financial picture from being all doom and gloom is the new relationship Mr. Carter has fostered with County Executive Robert R. Neall, the county council and the school board.

"I've known Berry since the 7th grade," Mr. Neall said. "He was my seventh-grade guidance counselor. We'll work very well together."

If that happens, it will be a vast improvement over the acrimony this year.

When Larry L. Lorton, the former superintendent, submitted his budget for this fiscal year, county council members called it unrealistic.

When Mr. Neall asked the school system to make cuts in its "top-heavy" administration, some school board members fired back that the executive should cut salaries of some of his higher paid employees.

And, when teachers were asked to give up four days of pay to avoid layoffs, tempers again flared among educators and government officials.

While he said that he hopes for a better relationship with school officials, Mr. Neall had no apology for last year's budget cuts.

"We took $42 million worth of cuts," Mr. Neall says. "Only $8 million came from the board of education, and county government is smaller than they are.

"I don't think we have anything to apologize for. I was one of the few people who said [the budget cutting] wasn't over yet. And it's not," he added.

Carolyn Roeding, president of the County Council of PTA's, said she, too, is hopeful that the working together theme works.

"I really do hope everyone can work together and not go around pointing fingers at each other," Mrs. Roeding says. "That doesn't help any of us."

Historically, there has been much finger-pointing between the school board and county government. The relationship has been anything but smooth.

But Del. Joan Cadden, D-Brooklyn Park, a former board member, said Mr. Carter's expertise in dealing legislators will help. "I think with his ability of having a good rapport with the legislature, it couldn't hurt," she said.

The appointment of Mr. Carter didn't come easily. After three decades as a teacher, guidance counselor and administrator, he was passed over twice when the school board went looking for a new leader. And, he was very nearly passed over a third time this year.

But the board broke a heated behind-the-scenes deadlock to appoint Mr. Carter unanimously to a four-year term.

If past divisions on the board upset him, Mr. Carter did not let on. He seemed to be focusing on the coming school year and making sure students are affected as little as possible.

"Through the last two years, through all the turmoil, the one thing I really felt proud about is none of the anguish got to the school students," Mr. Carter says.

When he began his career in 1958, the county had only 13,000 students and four high schools. Now, there are about 66,000 students and 12 high schools.

In 1958, the county was a relatively rural place, Mr. Carter said. Now, it has become "urban suburban," he said. The growth has led to crowded schools and more children walking to schools on roads with heavy traffic.

"There's more to worry about," he says.

If there is one thing that could cause Mr. Carter significant problems it may be the renewal of the teachers' union contract. Teachers have not had a raise in two years. And Thomas J. Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, says it is unlikely teachers would be willing to forgo a third year without a raise.

"Something is going to have to change," Mr. Paolino said. "Teachers cannot be asked to continue to subsidize education.

"We are facing a tough year. The frustration is going to mount. Everybody is going to be pushed to the limit," he added.

Mr. Carter said he would like to help teachers. One of his priorities is to have in-service training for newer teachers and retraining programs for teachers who have been in the system for any length of time.

But his main objective for the coming school year is very simple, Mr. Carter said. "If there's one thing I'd like to emphasize, it's that we treat every learner as I would want my 5-year-old grand kid treated."

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