Back to School

September 04, 1991

For nearly three quarters of a million Maryland students and for Nancy Grasmick, it was back to school yesterday. As schools reopened, the state Board of Education announced that Mrs. Grasmick will be the new state superintendent of schools.

Mrs. Grasmick had been secretary of the state Department of Juvenile Services, but most of her professional life has been spent in Baltimore County schools as a teacher and administrator. She returns to education at a difficult time: More is being demanded of schools, resources are tight and leadership is in transition.

* In addition to the new state school chief, the four largest districts in the state are experiencing changes at the top. Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's Counties have brand-new superintendents in place, and Baltimore County is beginning to search for a replacement for Robert Y. Dubel, who has announced he will be retiring after 16 years as superintendent. Together, these four districts account for more than half the public school students in the state.

* The tightness of resources has become a familiar story. Local budgets are being stretched, unable to accommodate both cost-of-living raises for staff and program improvements. (Some budgets have neither). The state, with its own budget problems, has not yet cut back on aid to local school districts -- money which pays nearly 40 percent of the cost of running Maryland's schools -- but there is certainly no source of "new money" in the state coffers.

* All this comes while the state is in the middle of an ambitious LTC reform program. The most expensive and controversial items in the reform proposal -- a longer school year and an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs -- have been put on the back burner. Meanwhile, Maryland is moving ahead with a comprehensive new testing program that will result in "report cards" for all schools and school districts. Once the state discovers which schools aren't producing results, however, it will have the obligation to help make things better -- and money will have to be found.

Mrs. Grasmick yesterday committed herself to continuing the reform agenda developed by a study commission and by the previous state superintendent, Joseph L. Shilling. She comes into office with the confidence of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and she has made a favorable impression on legislators in her eight months at Juvenile Services. She will need all the support she can muster to pull off the revitalization of schools, which is crucial to the future of the state.

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