Carter dealt with issues in-house

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For C. Berry Carter II, this past year as superintendent should have been the crowning moment in a lifetime of devotion to the Anne Arundel County public school system.

The proverbial bridesmaid, passed over three times for the superintendency, Mr. Carter mounted a strong campaign last year to succeed Larry Lorton. A fractious board narrowly chose him for the top spot over Cheryl Wilhoyte, the school system's assistant superintendent for instruction.

In July 1992, after 38 years in the system -- 18 years as the No. 2 man -- Mr. Carter had finally reached the top.

A little more than a year later, however, he found himself accused of essentially trying to protect the system he loved: keeping quiet in 1987 about allegations that a Northeast High School teacher was having sex with students. As deputy superintendent at the time, it was his responsibility to discipline teachers for misconduct.

A probe ordered by state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick concluded that Mr. Carter failed to report those allegations to police and social services -- a violation of state law. A more in-depth investigation was ordered. Mr. Carter was placed on paid leave July 31.

Tuesday night, after developing his written and oral rebuttal to the allegations made in the second report, Mr. Carter abruptly, and without explanation, resigned. Charges that he failed to correct any situation he knew was wrong astounds those who know Mr. Carter well.

'Disciplined person'

"He was a disciplined person, very conscious of his health and exercise. A real straight fellow in his thinking," said Joseph Alton, former Anne Arundel county executive whose nephews were taught by Mr. Carter. "Morally, I can't believe he could condone something like that. There is nothing in his character to suggest he would intentionally let something like that go on. He was always more inclined to take action than anyone else."

During periods when school superintendents didn't always get along with school boards or county executives, Mr. Carter emerged as its chief lobbyist in the legislature and the halls of county government.

"He was the guy you talked to, the guy that handled problems and expedited things," said state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-Ferndale. The two men met when Mr. Carter, as deputy superintendent, lobbied hard on behalf of the Green Street Coalition, a consortium of local boards of education.

"Everybody counted on him and went to him with problems. Like most government employees, he's cautious, he's not a risk-taker and he plays by the rules," said Mr. Wagner. "He's a seasoned pro in dealing with problems in the school system, and those

problems often are very sensitive."

Handled in-house

A lot of problems in schools, or any company, are handled in-house, Mr. Wagner noted, which may explain why Mr. Carter was hesitant to approach the authorities when allegations surfaced against teachers.

"I don't know if his thinking was maybe to keep it under cover, and try to handle it in-house and not have a lot of publicity. He's handled hundreds of problems over the years, and in a lot of cases that involves doing what you have to do in-house," Mr. Wagner said. "But who knew the roof would blow off Northeast?"

A sequence of events that began to unfold in April at Northeast High School in Pasadena rocked the school system to its foundation, as an admitted child abuser went on national television to insist the school system knew of his proclivities and did nothing to stop him.

Northeast teacher Ronald W. Price was sentenced this month to 26 years in prison on three counts of child sex abuse. A state probe this summer concluded Mr. Carter had been informed in a 1987 memo of Mr. Price's illicit activities with teen-age girls, but neither social services nor the police were notified.

Mr. Carter, 61, has refused to comment publicly on any allegations, but has maintained that he always "did what I thought in my heart was best" in his 38 years with the system.

A graduate of Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., C. Berry Carter II was hired by the county schools in 1954 to teach English and social studies at Brooklyn Park Junior-Senior High School, then later moved to Annapolis Junior High School. He became a guidance counselor at Annapolis Junior in 1958. Four years later, he was promoted to a position in the central office as a "pupil personnel worker" -- a job providing counseling and problem-solving services to students, parents and school staff.

In 1964, Mr. Carter moved up again, to the post of administrative assistant to then-Superintendent David Jenkins.

Mr. Carter's main duties were to help develop the school system's budget and to lobby on education issues. He also wrote the system's policy on drugs, and, in response to campus disruptions in the 1960s, developed a crisis-intervention team trained to provide a quick response to schools in trouble.

Then came his first shot at the superintendent's job.

He was named acting superintendent when Dr. Jenkins retired in 1968. But the job went to Edward J. Anderson.

Dr. Anderson appointed Mr. Carter to the deputy superintendent's spot in 1973. Mr. Carter was assigned to coordinate the discipline of students and teachers, and to lobby the state legislature as an advocate with the Green Street coalition.

Mr. Carter is perhaps best remembered by many for his habit of taking notes on paper napkins during meetings.

He was always meticulously dressed, "looking like he just stepped out of a bandbox, never covered with pet hair" despite the many stray animals his wife adopted as an activist in the SPCA, recalled County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, who served on the school board during Dr. Anderson's term as superintendent.

When Dr. Anderson departed in 1984, the top job went not to Mr. Carter, but to Robert C. Rice, the superintendent of schools in St. Charles Parish, La.

The county school board voted to buy out Mr. Rice in 1988, and Mr. Carter again was named acting superintendent. But the top job went to someone else -- Larry Lorton, superintendent of schools in nearby St. Mary's County. When Mr. Lorton's contract also was bought out in 1992, Mr. Carter was reappointed acting superintendent.

Getting the job

This time, at the urging of his staff, Mr. Carter went for the job again -- and got it when Vincent O. Leggett, then the school board president, switched his vote.

"I don't know whether he really wanted the job," said Ken Lawson, assistant superintendent for student support services. "But Mr. Carter has a highly developed sense of responsibility, and I think part of the motivation for taking the superintendent's job was that he felt he owed it to the system."

Mr. Carter had the blessing of County Executive Robert R. Neall, who over the years had written several letters recommending Mr. Carter be named superintendent. Mr. Carter was Mr. Neall's seventh-grade guidance counselor at Annapolis Junior High.

"He is one of the people in my life that I have had a deep, abiding respect and admiration for. His being superintendent meant a great deal to me as county executive," said Mr. Neall. "Last year, I tripled the allocation toward school construction, and the credit goes to Berry Carter. We talked two or three times a week -- something I hadn't been able to do with his predecessor."

Mr. Carter's first year at the top wasn't easy, though. He suffered bouts with skin cancer -- a result of his younger years as a lifeguard -- and recurring back problems. Professionally, he had to deal with a divided school board.

Supporters leave

He had won the appointment in a controversial 5-3 vote, with board members Jo Ann Tollenger, Thomas Twombly and Maureen Carr-York voting against him. Less than a week later, three of Mr. Carter's supporters were gone, replaced by new appointees. That left only Mr. Leggett and Dorothy Chaney in his camp, and Mr. Leggett lost his reappointment bid this summer to Carlesa Finney.

"It seems to me it was a constant battle with the board against Berry," said Mrs. Lamb. "I don't feel he's had a fair deal. I know how dedicated he was to the kids. He had plans."

But Ms. Carr-York noted that the events leading to Mr. Carter's resignation had nothing to do with his year as superintendent, but rather his tenure as deputy superintendent. "The board is not what brought forth Ron Price," said Ms. Carr-York. "We had no control over what happened in the years past."

Joseph Foster, vice president of the school board, said he knows Mr. Carter has "a high moral character and sense of honor."

"He made a contribution to the school system that shouldn't be ignored," said Mr. Foster, "And I think he's done an honorable thing by taking some responsibility and resigning."

FOR THE REPORT

By dialing SunFax at (410) 332-6123 and entering the code 5005, readers can receive, by fax, a free copy of the Report of Special Counsel to the Anne Arundel County Board of Education regarding C. Berry Carter II. The 28-page document will take approximately 14 minutes to receive.

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