Schmoke hints at city lawsuit over state funding for schools Mayor calls for equal spending on education.

April 19, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has once again sounded a cry for state action to make it possible for Baltimore to spend as much per pupil to educate its young people as do the wealthier suburban school systems.

He also raised the possibility of a lawsuit if other means fail to reduce the school funding disparity.

"I am reviewing all of our options," said the mayor yesterday, at the unveiling of a new history of the city's school system, written by Michael H. Bowler, the Op-Ed page editor for The Evening Sun.

The city has pledged not to file an equalization lawsuit without first consulting other poor jurisdictions around the state, Schmoke said.

But he said that the city has patiently lobbied legislators and the governor's office on the funding issue, with limited success.

According to the most recent state figures, per-pupil education spending totaled $4,614 in Baltimore during the 1989-1990 school year, ranking it 19th in the state. That compares with $7,213 per pupil in Montgomery County, the highest in the state, and $6,029 in Howard County, the second highest.

"Our children are really suffering," said Schmoke. "Our patience is about at an end." As a result, the city "will have to make some tough choices over the next couple of weeks" on the school funding issue.

Schmoke noted that the state legislature will tackle tax revisions this summer. The state's poor jurisdictions should meet and ready a specific plan to end the school spending disparity, he said.

"What we hope is the concept of equalization of funding becomes a reality," said Schmoke.

Unspoken is the threat of legal action if the local jurisdictions are disappointed by lawmakers and the state administration.

A similar lawsuit by Maryland school districts was thrown out by the state's highest court in 1983.

But the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union currently is researching the possibility of another such lawsuit.

And at a recent press breakfast, Schmoke said he has "been sitting on a brief for almost three years now."

He warned at that time that if the state failed to maintain its statutory commitment to boost education funding, it would be "almost inviting advocates for education to take the state to court."

Schmoke said dramatic action is needed this year to address the funding issue.

"We just think that time is running out on our children," he said.

Schmoke's comments came as he received a copy of "The Lessons of Change," a 46-page history of Baltimore city schools since 1960, commissioned by the private Fund for for Educational Excellence.

The report covers the past 30 years. It cites the various superintendents, reorganizations, reforms and educational initiatives during a turbulent period for the city's school system.

Among the lessons drawn from the report by the group:

* "Our schools reflect our communities and their conditions, and there are no quick solutions."

* "The turmoil and change surrounding the leadership of the Baltimore City Public Schools have not been productive."

* "Over the past 50 years, little has changed in how we education our children, yet the children and our world have changed." It cited breakdowns in family stability and the greater demand for literacy in the workplace as examples.

* "There has been no consistent strategic director for our schools."

Schmoke declared that the report "will have a significant impact on the direction of public education in Baltimore."

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