Spurning task force, board supports Berger Many suggestions for change rejected


The Baltimore County school board is standing by its man, Dr. Stuart Berger, and many of the changes he made in his first year as superintendent.

In so doing, the board is turning a cold shoulder to many of the recommendations made by the independent task force it appointed this summer to investigate transfers of administrators and the changes in placements of children with disabilities -- two issues that racked the school system last spring.

The board's response yesterday to the task force's critical report came more than two weeks after the report was issued. The board addressed the recommendations, which the task force said were intended to heal the troubled school system, but did not embrace them.

The board rejected the suggestion of hiring two independent ombudsmen, saying the idea was well-intentioned but that implementing it could violate laws and state codes governing education policies.

On the issue of establishing an ombudsman to review teachers' allegations of retaliation and intimidation by administrators, the board said, "We believe the collective bargaining process, including the right to representation, provided for in the Education Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland would prohibit the creation of such a position."

The board did not waffle in its support of Dr. Berger.

"The superintendent, Dr. Stuart Berger, retains the full confidence of the board," its statement said.

In response to the recommendation that the board "openly consider whether it wants to invest in any superintendent the complete discretion to transfer and/or demote an individual without regard for performance-related factors," the board said essentially that it did.

"The board . . . affirms the duty of the superintendent in the matter of personnel appointments and assignments," the statement said. However, the board said it will study the recommendation to determine whether any changes in the transfer process are necessary.

The board did not agree to review the specific personnel policy and rule, as recommended. That rule, changed last spring, allows administrative and supervisory personnel to be suspended, demoted or dismissed "by action of the board upon the recommendation of the superintendent."

Board President Alan Leberknight said the board discussed each recommendation in depth and that he felt good about the task force report. He said he did not think very many of the recommendations had been rejected but that some could not be acted on because of pending litigation.

He said he thought the board was particularly forthright in asking that the performance review used for administrators be examined and in instructing the superintendent's staff to give administrators more training in the review process by the end of the year.

Ray Suarez, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, took a dim view of the board's response.

"I am sort of incredulous that the board would reject most of the recommendations of a blue ribbon task force," he said. "I was particularly disappointed in their rejecting the ombudsmen. I thought the ombudsmen would go a long way in helping to restore confidence."

Mr. Leberknight said the task force report has had "a big effect" on the board and will continue to influence it. "I would consider it absolutely unethical to not be totally aware of that report during all of my time on the board," he said.

Mr. Leberknight said board members considered asking Dr. Berger to leave but decided that was not in the best interest of the schools.

William Lawrence, the assistant superintendent who released the board's response, said Dr. Berger would "absolutely not" have any response to the board's statement.

The statement upheld many of the school system's actions regarding moving disabled children out of special education centers and into neighborhood schools.

The task force said the controversial process, which has come to be known as inclusion, was hasty and ill-planned, but the board pointed to "the painstaking efforts of the system to prepare itself for inclusion." It cited the thousands of teachers who were trained last year to handle the children and the diligence of teachers and administrators in trying to make the youngsters' transition smooth.

The board is expanding "significantly" the Special Education Citizens Advisory Council to include individuals and organizations that "have the best interest of special needs students at heart," the board's statement said.

The council will report to the board, rather than to school administrators, as it has done previously.

Reached for comment last night, Sanford Teplitzky, the task force chairman, said he had not had time to read the board's response.

"I'm glad that there is a response, but I don't have a clue as to what's in it," he said, though he acknowledged that not all of the report's recommendations had been adopted. "It looks like they certainly took the task force report seriously."

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