Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is considering transferring his daughter from Roland Park Elementary/Middle School to private school -- a move city education activists say would raise &L questions about his commitment to the school system.
"Yes, he can have a commitment to public schools if his daughter isn't in them," said Ronald L. Wilson, president of the Baltimore City Council of PTAs. "But then his commitment is only by word of mouth, not by action and deeds. And people like to see action."
Mr. Schmoke refused to discuss in detail the reasons he and his wife are considering moving their daughter, saying he wants to protect her privacy. "We make decisions based on what we feel is appropriate and we evaluate year to year," he said.
Mr. Schmoke's daughter, Katherine, is a sixth-grader at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, where last month a school police officer was shot and seriously injured. A 14-year-old student at the school has been charged in the shooting.
Mr. Schmoke said that he and his wife began thinking about transferring Katherine from Roland Park long before the shooting. "This goes back to last summer," Mr. Schmoke said.
When Mr. Schmoke was elected to his first term as mayor in 1987, Katherine was a student at Friends School in North Baltimore. Although the mayor ran for office on a strong education platform, the fact that his daughter was in private school never became a campaign issue.
The Schmokes transferred Katherine to West Baltimore's Hilton Elementary School in 1988. Many saw the move as a vote of confidence for the city public schools, which in the past two decades have been abandoned by many middle-class city residents.
"I sent him a note congratulating him," said Mr. Wilson, who has two children in public schools.
The Schmokes later moved Katherine to Roland Park -- widely considered one of the best city schools. Their other child, Gregory, is a graduate of the School for the Arts, a public school.
"Both of my children have had experiences in public and private schools," Mr. Schmoke said. Asked about possible public reaction if he and his wife decide to return their daughter to private school, Mr. Schmoke said: "Different people will draw different conclusions. I think most people understand that I have responsibilities as a father and that is to do what is in the best interest of my child."
Mr. Schmoke said a decision will be made by the end of the school year.
Robert C. Embry Jr., the state school board president who has a daughter at Roland Park, said the mayor faces a tough choice. "I'm sure this is a very painful decision," he said. "And I'm sure he realizes the implications of his decision."
School Superintendent Dr. Walter G. Amprey called the mayor's decision purely a family matter. "I really believe that where a person decides to send his child to school is a personal decision," he said. "And the mayor certainly has a right to be a citizen and a parent first."
Since being elected mayor, Mr. Schmoke has focused much of his energy on improving the school system and has provided the schools with large increases in city funding. But some observers say those facts could be outweighed in the public's mind by the symbolism involved in taking his own child out of the public schools.
Del. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Baltimore, who said he plans to move his daughter from Roland Park to a private school, said the mayor faces a private decision that has some political consequences.
"I think this is an individual decision and you've got to look at your child and what's best for your child," Mr. Cummings said. "What may be good for the mayor politically may not be good for his daughter."