Daryl Shaw's face, usually a pale scarlet, turned beet red as he leaned over the table at a recent Montgomery County school board meeting and accused fellow board member Joseph Barse of railroading through a controversial resolution.
At another point, normally tranquil Elizabeth Spencer, who rarely raised her voice when she wielded the gavel as board chairman in the past year, pounded her fist on the table as she argued against the removal of a gymnasium from next year's capital budget.
That was just one meeting. The dramatic movement at the next came when board president Marian Greenblatt, her face trembling with rage, pounded her gavel on the table and threatened to clear the meeting room of 50 black parents who were hurling charges of racism and injustice at the board.
In the past four weeks, scenes like this have turned Montgomery County school board meeting - once sedate, almost somnolent sessions-into the greatest show in Rockville.
The new tension at board meetings, and the histrionics that sometimes accompany it, are the results of the November election, which put a conservative majority on the board for the first time in more than a decade.
As a result, the board is now composed of two factions, each of which is inexorably opposed to the political tactics and philosophy of the other.
In one corner, carrying with it what it considers a mandate for change, is the four-member conservative majority, headed by board president Greenblatt. In the other are holdover board members Shaw, Spencer and Blair Ewing, once part of the old Liberal rajority.
Smakc in the middle of it all, sitting at Greenblatt's left, is Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo, the man the board's majority has pledged to oust.Usually an inceberg of calm detachment, Bernardo is showing signs of actual amusement during the meetings, allowing himself an occasional grin.
So far, two major board actions have underlined the deep split between the two factions, and have turned the once-sedate board meetings into something like pitched battles.
The first was a vote Dec. 5 to join a teachers union lawsuit challenging the validity of Bernardo's contract. The second was a move last Monday to tentatively rescind a requirement that all school employes take a course in black culture that had enraged the teachers.
These actions, preceded by resolutions that the minority of ramming through actions with little discussion, have had several results:
They have infuriated the county's black community; they have brought protests of foul play and policy railroading from the minority members, and they have prompted charges of due process violations from the county's Democratic Central Committee.
So angry is the Montgomery NAACP that it is threatening to picket all future school board meetings.
In their defense, conservative members Greenblatt, Barse, Carol Wallace and Eleanor Zappone say the actions constitute a fulfillment of promises they made during the campaign.
"It's our actions that are getting people so upset," Barse said yesterday. "It's our philosophy."
Erwing, however, said yesterday that he was angry over the board's "lack of consideration for due process."
"Probably 70 percent of the county doesn't even know who's on the school board," he said. "How can that majority consider its election as a mandate for fundamental policy change?"
Ewing said "they (the majority) don't have a mandate to short-circuit due process. They vote in bloc on drastic resolutions that are put before the rest of us right before it's time to vote."
At times in the last few weeks the new board majority has itself had trouble trying to reconcile its various campaign promises. After campaigning for months on a pledge to decrease the school budget, new board members voted to increase the capital budget proposed by Bernardo. The reason: the conservatives had also promised to renovate, rather than close, Wheaton High School.
At the end of that four-hour session two weeks ago Bernardo, who had submitted a $17.4 million capital budget, looked over his shoulder and imspected the new $20 million chalked total on the blackboard. A grin appeared momentarily on his usually impassive face.
So striking is the recentg change in mood at board meetings that one school administrator-between the screams and catcalls that punctuated the flow of business at a recent meeting-said "I gave up a chance to see "Superman" to be here."
Another school administrator, information officer Kenneth Muir, believes much of the new friction and animosity will fade with time.
"There's a lot of learning to do. The school system is very complex," he said. "They (the majority) cam into office as outsiders who didn't belong to the school establishment in any way. I think the more they learn to trust staff and the other board members the more accomodations and compromises will be made."
In the meantime, Ewing, echoing Winstone Churchill, is threatening to "fight them at every turn and at every issue" on matters in which he believes the majority denies the minority an opportunity for "fair play.".t"In my 10 years in Montgomery I have never seen so much animosity and fundamental opinion differences," he said. "As for that meeting last week on the black culture course, it wasn't the audience that was disruptive. It was the majority."