The city school board is expected to vote tonight on a "school-based management" plan that would transfer much of the authority over education from the central office on North Avenue to the schools themselves. This article and the one at right discuss the concept.
TONIGHT the city school board has an opportunity to transfer authority and decision-making from the central administration to local schools. The Citizens Planning and Housing Association thinks it's a good idea, but several issues must be resolved before "restructuring" is adopted.
First, the process must involve all the stakeholders -- parents, community members, businesses, teachers, administrators, fTC elected officials and the school board. All these groups are needed to support the schools and provide resources for school improvement.
Second, while the current proposal does advocate the transfer ChickieGraysonof authority and decision-making to the school level, authority to hire staff and allocate resources was not built into the plan. Schools can seek waivers from union rules, and perhaps some will have some budgetary authority, but none of this is clearly defined. Parents, teachers and citizens have little opportunity for intervention when they don't control the budget.
We must radically change the way resources are allocated by allowing schools to spend money the way they see fit.
Third, the plan must be more specific on the issue of accountability. The restructuring plan says schools will be held to standards set by the state, but it fails to outline what will happen when schools flunk the test. Again, parents and students will be without recourse if schools fail them. Who's responsible for ensuring that our children receive a good education?
The plan must establish a structure that clearly holds accountable those given the authority to educate children.
Fourth, the plan needs to spell out how parents, teachers, principals, administrators and school board members will relate to each other. The plan calls for school-based councils that will be trained by the central administration. Since this is a new venture for city schools, outside experts must be employed to help school councils get off the ground and share in decision-making and governance.
Fifth, the plan outlines significant responsibilities for the "committee to support restructuring." But there's a danger that the committee itself will become another level of bureaucracy through which all the parties will have to wade. Instead of the committee, we recommend an advisory committee that would be involved in assessing the restructuring effort but would not be involved in day-to-day operations.
This group must be representative of all of those with a stake in the schools. Most important, it must facilitate the flow of information to and from the constituencies.
Sixth, the school system must recruit a technical assistance group made up of professionals who are knowledgeable about school-based management. The school councils are going to need all the help they can get, and the technical assistance group should be available for consultation and advice.
The school board, then, must make revisions in the restructuring proposal so that clear guidelines are given to the schools involved. The guidelines must give schools full authority over their budgets and staff hiring, they must outline how schools will be held accountable and tell what will happen to those that don't make the grade. They must provide for effective training, and they must include a mechanism to include parent and community monitoring of the project.
Baltimore schools have a tremendous opportunity for positive change. We hope the school board makes the necessary revisions before approving a restructuring plan.
Chickie Grayson is president of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association.