School officials make plans for weeklong closing Baltimore ignores warnings from state Board of Education

December 13, 1991|By Gelareh Asayesh

Despite warnings from the State Board of Education, the city is going ahead with plans to close Baltimore public schools for a week in February to make up a budget shortfall, school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said yesterday.

The school system plans to send a memo to principals today asking them to prepare for "Independent Study Week" the week of Feb. 17, school officials said.

Principals are being asked to develop materials to send home with children, including sample activities that parents can do with their child, Dr. Amprey said.

Baltimore expects to save $7.5 million in teacher salaries by closing schools for a week. The closing coincides with Presidents' Day, which is observed Feb. 17. So while teachers will lose five days' pay, students will miss a total of four school days, officials said.

But the move could put the city on a collision course with the State Board of Education, which attempted to pre-empt the city's plans last month by announcing that it would turn down any requests for a waiver of the 180-day minimum school days required in Maryland.

Baltimore has not applied for a waiver and may still choose to makeup the lost time at the end of the school year -- making a waiver unnecessary, Dr. Amprey said.

"We don't know what's going to happen afterward yet," he said. "But we're going to close schools."

If Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke decides to flout state regulations by dropping below the required 180-day minimum, he could face loss of state funding. State officials have said that such a move would be unprecedented.

It was the loss of millions in state support that prompted Mr. Schmoke to propose closing schools to make up part of an estimated $9 million shortfall in education funding.

Though his plan has outraged some, including city teachers and parents, others, including the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association, have argued that closing schools is preferable to program cuts and layoffs.

Mr. Schmoke could not be reached for comment last night. But he said last month in announcing the plan to close schools that he is willing to risk court challenges. The mayor said that state budget cuts amounted to a civil emergency, providing grounds for obtaining a waiver of the 180-day minimum.

State school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and the state board disagreed with that interpretation last month -- and nothing has changed since then, said Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the State Board of Education.

"I think that it appears to be an issue," he said. "We'll see how it develops."

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