City school board shake-up

January 30, 1992

Heavy winds have been buffeting the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners. City Council President Mary Pat Clarke wants to elect two-thirds of the nine-member body, while Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke talks of eliminating the board or of making it advisory. Meanwhile, the school board hardly distinguished itself by running away and hiding during the mayor's ill-advised effort to close the schools for a week to save money.

Given all these cross-winds, it's refreshing that the mayor has performed a mid-winter housecleaning in the board nominations he sent to the City Council late last week -- and it's gratifying to see that a slate of considerable quality and diversity has agreed to serve in this largely thankless, totally unpaid capacity.

Mr. Schmoke could have replaced all nine commissioners; he replaced six and promoted one of the carry-overs, Philip H. Farfel, to board president. Mr. Farfel's appointment should provide continuity -- and leadership where it has been lacking. The six new members, assuming they are confirmed, represent a variety of business, academic and cultural interests. Mr. Schmoke, who appointed or reappointed all of the current board members, has been criticized for creating a board without leadership or assertiveness. Now the mayor, in a welcome turn, seems to have decided that the board will be relevant after all. He may even find himself at odds with some of his appointees.

In many respects, this board arrives midway through the party. Superintendent Walter G. Amprey is about to announce a reorganization of the North Avenue administration, and the mayor has his own plans for the system he wants so very much to be an integral part of his "city that reads." It will be fascinating to see what role the new body plays in these developments.

There is a role for an assertive and responsible school board in Baltimore City. An elected board makes little sense in a city where budgets and tax rates are set at City Hall, and members of an elected board, as those in Montgomery County and Pittsburgh have demonstrated, can be slaves to special interests such as teachers' unions. In restructuring the Board of School Commissioners, Mayor Schmoke appears to have made a refreshing new start.

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