Decentralizing Baltimore's schools is an idea whose time may come -- but not just yet. That was the prevailing view.
About 75 parents, educators and community members who attended a public hearing at the Polytechnic Institute last night said they generally supported the plan, which would put most decision-making at the school level within three years. But they said the board was moving too fast in deciding on a major reconfiguration of the school system's structure.
Several speakers asked the board to delay a decision on the plan, which it had hoped to make this month, to give parents more time to digest the plan's implications.
Under the proposal, presented to the board in August, 20 schools would volunteer to test the program beginning next fall. Each school would create a council including teachers, parents, community representatives and the principal. The council would make decisions on budgets, personnel and curriculum.
Three representatives of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association said last night that the plan's basic idea was a sound way to increase parental and community involvement. But the plan should not suggest, they said, that the council would run the school.
"Restructuring is not a new way to make decisions or to manage the schools," said Sheila Kolman, the group's vice president and principal of West Baltimore Middle School. "The principal is still ultimately responsible."
Meg McFadden, president of the Parent-Teacher Association of the Roland Park elementary and middle schools, said the school board must give parents time to absorb the plan. Copies of it have been difficult to obtain, she said.
Kathleen Wilson, the parent of two City College students, was one of the few speakers who criticized the plan's premise, saying it could muddy the more important issues of accountability and good teaching.
Councils may "make it more difficult to reach decisions" by "diluting authority," she said. "I think we have a lot to lose."