Council members seek school rezoning delay jTC Baltimore board to consider plea

January 28, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

A majority of the Baltimore City Council called on the school board last night to delay implementing the systemwide rezoning plan a year.

The plan is so riddled with problems that it cannot be fixed by the beginning of the school year in September, council members said at a special joint meeting at school headquarters.

The plan has drawn sharp criticism from parents and politicians, who blame the board and school staffers for drafting it without sampling public opinion.

Some school staffers are blaming the council for the plan's problems. Staffers say that the council pressured the school system to speed up the rezoning process and that some parts of the plan were rushed to meet the council's timetable.

"Pretty much, we think the whole process should start over, and start from the bottom up rather than the top down," said Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, who chairs the council's education committee. "If you need more time, take more time."

Said Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, D-5th, "We would rather have a good product in the end than to have a deadline."

Council members also asked the board to vote to keep the popular K-8 grade schools and retain special education programs that had been recommended for closure.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke and other members urged the board to decide quickly on the recommendation, saying that they are under intense pressure from their constituents who oppose the plan.

"I believe that each of the recommendations you've made should be considered by this board," school board President Phillip H. Farfel said, adding that the panel would respond to the council's recommendations "in the next couple of weeks."

Board member Charles L. Maker told the council, "I can say we are in the same ballpark. We have some of the same concerns you have."

Two other board members, Redmond C. S. Finney and Lloyd T. Bowser Sr., refused to comment on what the board is likely to do with the council's recommendations.

The dispute is the latest twist in the debate over a proposed rezoning plan that would close nine schools and shift the boundaries of 57 more.

The school board conducted seven public forums on the plan last month and this month, and will have two more hearings next week. It is due to vote on a final plan in April, for implementation when school starts in September.

But members of the council are asking that the effective date be pushed back to September 1994 to give staff more time to analyze those comments and alter the plan.

"To have all the criticisms that were delivered at the forums looked at seriously in one month is not realistic," Councilman John L. Cain, D-1st, who co-chairs an advisory panel on rezoning for the council's education committee, said in an interview earlier yesterday. "I don't think the plan has enough input."

Parents have complained, for example, about the long distances students in some neighborhoods would have to travel to attend middle school under the new plan, and about some scheduled closings.

Opposition to another part of the plan -- the proposed elimination of K-8 schools -- was so intense last month that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the board's own president have said that that part of the plan is unlikely to be implemented.

"The administration needs to take an additional year to move forward on the plan, by getting input from as many of those groups as possible," said Mr. Cain.

School officials say they originally discussed a September 1994 start date, but moved it up after the council voiced its impatience at delays.

The council was "very much interested in having rezoning move forward," Mr. Farfel said before the meeting. That pressure took the form of holding back money for the school system's planning department in 1991, to prod the process along, he said.

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