Keep schools open

December 27, 1991

Mayor Kurt Schmoke -- who came into office promising to improve public education -- has made a mockery of his commitment by threatening to close all public schools in the city for a week in February to save money. Certainly the city's fiscal problems are complex and perplexing. But one thing is obvious: Baltimore cannot improve the quality of education by abandoning its support of schools.

Schmoke, for his part, insists that a take-home curriculum can help fill the instructional gaps. Sure. We can see it now: thousands of teen-agers turning to Houghton-Mifflin rather than Geraldo. Elementary school kids, many of whom will be left alone for lack of child care, sitting attentively at their desks for a week, reciting multiplication tables.

But the problems are more complicated than that. In a city where the correlation between attendance and the high drop-out rate is well documented, the worst message the mayor can send to kids is that when things get tough, school slides to the bottom of the priority list. More than that, study after study shows that children from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds, who make up a significant chunk of Baltimore's school population, benefit most from classroom time and suffer most for lack of it. Cutting the number of instructional days below the state minimum is plainly at odds with the best interests of the city's children.

All this would be bad enough were it not for the fact that the mayor has alternatives. Of the estimated $7.5 million the city would save if schools were closed for a week, only $460,000 comes from heating and transportation costs. The rest comes from furloughs of 11,300 school employees -- who could be furloughed instead on the paid holidays, staff development and administrative-duties days when school is not in session.

That Schmoke, who promised to get education back on track, has rejected a strategy that would keep school open, and chosen instead to use city students to try make a political point is more than hypocritical. It is unconscionable.

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