It was a vintage tiff -- Feisty Radio Talk Show Host vs. Resolute School Superintendent.
Allan Prell faced off against Stuart Berger in an hour of give-and-take yesterday about Baltimore County schools and what's happening in them.
Mr. Prell pulled no punches and Mr. Berger ducked few of them.
Listeners to WBAL's morning talk show heard Mr. Prell tell Dr. Berger he was "knee-deep and waist-high in political problems," that he was perceived as "arrogant and dictatorial" and that it "seems to me that Stuart Berger is in this rowboat and he can't understand that everyone isn't in the rowboat with him."
That was just for openers.
When Mr. Prell called him "beleaguered," Dr. Berger was even pleased.
"I'm so tired of 'embattled' that any synonym will work," he said of the words used to describe him in news accounts and editorials.
Although Mr. Prell took a handful of calls during an hour that was nearly commercial-free, most of the inquisition came from the host, whose fax machine and headphones have been buzzing for weeks with complaints about county schools and the changes the superintendent has wrought during his stormy first year on the job.
L At a sometimes breakneck pace, Mr. Prell grilled his quarry.
"Are you arrogant?"
"No," Dr. Berger replied. "Would I concede that I probably give that impression? Yes. I am trying to improve in that area. Until people get to know me better, I'm trying to listen better before I respond."
"If an election was held today, would you be re-elected?"
"No," answered Dr. Berger. "If I was running for office, I would probably lose. That's why there's a four-year term."
"If a check was written out today in the amount to buy out your contract, would you accept it?"
"No," said the superintendent.
Dr. Berger said he is not happy about the turmoil that erupted during his first year as superintendent, that he had expected dissent, but not so much, and that he had made some bad decisions and misjudged some situations.
"It was an error in judgment not to get involved in the special education issue earlier," said Dr. Berger, who has been assailed by parents of disabled children who are being moved from the county's five special education centers to neighborhood schools a process known as "inclusion."
"We are not even going to inclusion, we are going to integration," he said, defending the moves. "We are not moving too fast."
Dr. Berger also defended his demotions of an unusually large number of principals and assistants.
"There are about 650 administrators in Baltimore County. I made a decision about each person," he declared. He said he asked two questions: Does the person have the ability to implement the plans the school board laid out before it hired a new superintendent? And does the person have the ability to explain that vision to the people who work for him?
If the answer to either question was "no," Dr. Berger said, the administrator was subject to being removed. "There were tough management decisions that had to be made. Nobody enjoys making them."
Dr. Berger declined to stay longer that the agreed-upon hour. When it was up, he and Mr. Prell shook hands. "It's radio. I've done radio before. It's part of the job," the superintendent said afterward.
And what did Uncle Allie think?
"He was not as nasty as I was led to believe he would be. I think he was on his best behavior. I think that it was a stellar performance by Berger. I think he answered my questions as well as he wished to.
"I think he's cute."