A hotly debated plan for reorganizating the administrative structure of the Montgomery County school system has been approved by the county board of education.
By a 6 to 1 vote last week, the board accepted most of the basic components of the plan proposed by Superintendent Charles Bernardo. Board President Elizabeth Spencer called the board action " a decision of compromise" but said she hoped it would not result in a "sterile hybrid."
The only board member to vote against the plan was the one who had originally proposed a reorganization. Marian Greenblatt, who had sought the reorganization as a way to save money and improve services to students, said that the intent of her proposal had been "grossly distorted." The superintendent's plan did not save enough money, she said and "the emphasis in this reorganization has been on management; it has not been on better delivery of services."
The basic thrust of the plan, which becomes effective July 1, is to streamline the school system's administrative structure and establish a more direct line of command between the schools and the superintendent. The plan eliminates one level of bureaucracy and about two dozen positions, most of them administrative, and is expected to save about $400,000.
It places more emphasis on long-range planning and professional accountability, setting up a high-level planning unit and an office designed to monitor progress and problems in individual schools.
The board delayed action on Bernardo's proposals for strengthening area offices and establishing teacher resource centers.
The vote ended a bitter, three-month debate over the plan and the way it had been devised.
Bernardo had promised that the plan would produce exciting changes that would help students, teachers and administrators. But many employees viewed the plan as a fiasco that would cause more problems than it would solve.
They expressed resentment that Bernardo, who has been with the Montgomery County system for two years, seemed to be using reorganization as a way to get rid of administrators who had been with the system for many years.
But the most severe criticism came over the way the plan was developed. Many employees were angered by what they described as Bernardo's "behind-closed-doors" approach to reorganization - using an outside paid consultant to analyze the system, ignoring the school system's professional staff and meeting privately or in closed sessions with board members to work out the plan.
The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), which represents teachers and administrators and was the most vocal employee group attacking the plan, said Bernardo had even violated state law by hiring an outside-consultant without seeking competitive bids for the service.
However, Bernardo and the school system's attorney, Robert Bourbon, said the superintendent had followed normal procedures in hiring the consultant.
Bernardo also defended himself against complaints that he had ignored the professional staff, nothing that he had received staff input in determining the plan's objectives.
Even among those attacking the plan, there was dissension. Some employees contended that personality issues, such as the dispute about the consultant, were being confused with substantive issues.
Other observers said the resistance was only a symptom of employees reacting to a complex situation facing not only Montgomery County schools, but schools around the nation.
Bernardo has said he believes the resistance reflected the more complex problems of the district. He noted that like most superintendents he is presiding over the "management of reduction." He added, "The only way we can improve services to children today is by reallocating the existing resources, and that makes waves."
After the board action last week, Bernardo said he was "extremely pleased" with the decision and believed the school system now was beginning to face up to "the challenges posed by declining enrollment and tight money." But MCEA president Hank Heller continued his criticism of what he called a "management-oriented plan that meets the needs of the superintendent but not the classroom teacher."