Schmoke's education farce

January 13, 1992

Some insiders suggest that in his forthcoming city charter revision, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will call for replacing the school board with a cabinet-level education czar. Perhaps that is why he is letting the school board exhibit a humiliating impotence at a time when the whole school system is scheduled to shut down for a week to save money.

Not only have all the nominated school board members' terms expired (they are serving at the mayor's pleasure), but the board has yet to address the school-closure issue -- even though it presents an unprecedented education trauma for Baltimore City's students, parents and teachers.

This situation has led to understandable but ill-founded calls to eliminate the school board altogether. Irene B. Dandridge, president of the 8,500-member Baltimore Teachers Union, for one, wants an elected board in hopes it "might have the courage to stand up and champion the rights of the students in Baltimore City."

An elected school board, with ensuing political grandstanding and divisive posturing, is not the answer. As long as the mayor -- and not the board -- controls the school system's purse-strings, the mayor is ultimately responsible for the successes and failures of public education. Depending on his personality and interests, he may want to use the city school board as a policy-making buffer to a larger or smaller extent, but in the end it still is the mayor who has to make the tough education calls.

Schmoke seems determined to ahead with school closing, though elected executives of surrounding counties have managed to avoid such extreme action. If the mayor thought he could put pressure on state officials to find extra funds for Baltimore schools, it ought to be clear by now that the tactic is not working. Instead, the mayor's crass gambit is backfiring.

City educators are furious. So are parents, who feel the one-week school closing proves the Schmoke administration, despite its rhetoric, has no real commitment to quality education. For that reason, some of them are now talking about sending their children to private schools or moving out of the city.

The mayor can -- and should -- come up with an alternative to the one-week school closing. City students need all the schooling they can get. They need the discipline of continuing attendance without an extra interruption that is certain to increase already chronic absenteeism rates.

There is no excuse for Baltimore City's adopting a shorter school year than the rest of the state, despite its current budget woes and protracted funding problems. For "The City That Reads," schooling must stand No. 1 on the priority list.

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