Having now ratified Mayor Schmoke's wish not to renew School Superintendent Richard C. Hunter's contract, the city school board last week found itself squarely confronting the inevitable consequence of its decision: Now that Hunter is for all practical purposes a lame duck, who will plead the schools' case when the city makes its annual trek to Annapolis to ask the General Assembly for more aid?
Board members rightly worry that allowing the leadership issue to go unresolved through the summer will hurt Baltimore's chances with legislators already made skittish by the regional economic downturn and a smoldering taxpayer revolt. Lawmakers no doubt would prefer to put off the nettlesome question of increased funding for city schools until after a new superintendent is hired. But with 18 other major cities vying for schools chiefs from the same short list of candidates, it may not be possible for Baltimore to choose Hunter's replacement in time to improve its prospects with the legislature.
So once again we urge the mayor and school board to seriously consider the idea of appointing, on an interim basis, a cabinet-level commissioner of education answerable directly to the mayor who would be responsible for setting broad policy while the current deputy superintendent continues to manage the schools' day-to-day operations. Such an arrangement would give the city more time to recruit the best possible candidate for superintendent without depriving the schools of a credible advocate in Annapolis during the crucial weeks of the legislative session. It could also help open the system to new ideas and a fresh approach to problems, both of which have been sadly absent from the "reforms" of recent years.