WHEN BALTIMORE COUNTY school administrators gave up some benefits to help offset a shortfall in the county system's budget, they did so apparently without prodding by the acting superintendent, Anthony Marchione. Yet their gesture fits the spirit of cooperation Dr. Marchione, a human relations specialist, aims to bring to a system that has weathered much controversy the past three years.
The amount in forfeited annuity payments, about $375,000, is a pittance compared to the estimated budget shortage of $10 million. But what it lacks in financial impact it makes up for in symbolism. This is another in a recent series of efforts by Greenwood to bridge the chasm that has long existed between the folks who run the schools and the elected politicians in Towson.
The distance between these two factions was never wider than earlier this year. Then-Superintendent Stuart Berger -- a man no one would confuse with a human relations specialist -- clashed with County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and the County Council over a $10 million health insurance fund for school employees. The pols were especially angered by what they claimed was the practice of school officials to transfer budgeted money from one spending category to another without the required approval of the council. Not long after this conflict reached the boiling point in April, behind-the-scenes events commenced that ultimately led to Dr. Berger's firing on Aug. 1.
Dr. Marchione is viewed in some quarters as a caretaker who will keep the office warm until next summer. Caretaker or not, he deserves credit for sending clear signals that, yes, the system will continue in the general direction set by Dr. Berger, though not with the hard-charging manner of the former superintendent. Also commendable is Dr. Marchione's pledge to work closely with the county executive and council members on budgetary matters.
Meanwhile, the school board's independence means the best-laid plans of the superintendent and the pols in Towson can still go awry. But at least by reaching out to the elected officials, Dr. Marchione has helped create an atmosphere in which any future problems should be less likely to turn into major blow-ups.