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Board reportedly considers Grasmick for Berger's post

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In a sign that the tenure of Baltimore County schools Superintendent Stuart Berger may be coming to a close, the county school board has apparently contacted the state school superintendent, Nancy S. Grasmick, about taking the job.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that Dr. Grasmick told him this week that the school board had asked to meet with her and that she was not interested in the job.

"The board expressed an interest in meeting with her and . . . she assumed there would be an offer," Mr. Glendening said. "That's the way she worded it."

Dr. Berger's four-year contract runs through June 30. But there have been persistent rumors of a buyout or resignation that would remove the controversial superintendent much earlier from his job as head of the 100,000-student system.

Contacted last night, Dr. Berger said he was unaware of any moves by the school board to interest others in his job.

"I know nothing about any contacts with Nancy Grasmick," he said. "It's news to me. I still have my job, and I just wonder if it's even legal to offer a job to someone when that position is not vacant."

Since April the county school board has been meeting privately to consider Dr. Berger's annual evaluation, board President Calvin D. Disney said this week.

Mr. Disney was unavailable for comment last night on the report about Dr. Grasmick, a former county schools administrator.

Paul Cunningham, who recently moved from board president to vice president, would not comment directly on the governor's account. "We approach people lots of times and ask them about their plans for the future," he said.

Mary Katherine Sheeler, another board member, declined to comment on any offer to Dr. Grasmick. But she added, "Things are happening . . . no doubt about it."

Baltimore school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, meanwhile, said he had talked with a county school board member about the situation.

Asked if he was considering the county job, he said, "No, I wasn't asked. It was just a general talk about the county . . . But it was pretty clear to me that they were going to move on. It just became pretty obvious to me that they were considering some things."

Mr. Glendening said his discussion with Dr. Grasmick arose during a breakfast meeting, as they mapped Maryland's education policy schedule for the next six months.

The governor recalled that Dr. Grasmick said, " 'I should tell you that the board . . . ' I forget exactly how she worded it, but anyway, the board was clearly interested in her.

"And, I said, 'Well, we've got a whole agenda here, and you are part of this team.' "

Mr. Glendening said he was not certain when the meeting between the board and Dr. Grasmick had been scheduled. "We didn't go into any detail at all," he said.

Dr. Grasmick declined to comment on whether the county school board had made any overtures. "I'm committed to the school reform efforts of the state, and I intend to remain as superintendent," she said.

Dr. Berger, who has said repeatedly that he is not interested in a buyout and, in fact, would not even take another superintendency, modified his stance slightly yesterday.

"There are only two superintendencies that I would consider. New York City is one," he said, declining to name the other. "I consider that an excellent job."

Dr. Berger would not say whether he had applied or been approached to consider the top job in the nation's largest school system.

New York City school officials would not confirm or deny that Dr. Berger was an applicant for the position that will be vacant in October.

The selection process "is in the early stages," said New York school board spokesman Josh Plaut. "My understanding is that there is no short list."

Dr. Berger came to Baltimore County from Wichita, Kan., where his push for innovation stirred considerable controversy.

Among Dr. Berger's innovations in Baltimore County are full-day kindergarten, school breakfasts, more than 20 magnet school programs and management reform that gives principals more power.

But many of those programs sparked controversy. And the controversy was often intensified by the superintendent's hard-charging nature, what one school principal has called "the Stuart Berger factor."

For example, attempts to change the highly touted gifted and talented programs brought Dr. Berger into one of his first confrontations with parents. In late 1992, nearly 1,200 parents gathered at Loch Raven High School in a rough-and-tumble session generally critical of him.

Even more parents were angered by his program to move hundreds of disabled students out of special education centers and into neighborhood schools.

And the high-profile magnet schools program, initially hailed as an innovation that would bring choice to county students and ease racial imbalances, ran into trouble during last fall's county elections and this year's budget process.

Several board members tried to stop previously approved programs, but they were outvoted and the programs are progressing, along with development of a strategic plan for future magnet schools.

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