House may keep $27 million from schools Aid to be returned if changes are made

March 13, 1993|By John W. Frece and Mark Bomster | John W. Frece and Mark Bomster,Staff Writers

An article in the Saturday Sun reported incorrectly that th General Assembly's House Appropriations Committee voted to withhold nearly $27 million in school aid to Baltimore. In fact, the committee rejected that recommendation and voted to withhold about $4.8 million.

The Sun regrets the errors

Frustrated by the poor performance of Baltimore schools, the House Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to withhold nearly $27 million of the city's school aid unless the school system makes changes the lawmakers demand.

In a lengthy work session, the committee also voted to gut the governor's plan to give 200 low-income city families vouchers to pay for private or parochial school tuition.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The proposed withholding of state school aid to Baltimore -- an unprecedented intervention in the operation of a local school system -- is intended to force changes that were laid out in a highly critical consultant's report issued last summer, a report seen by some legislative leaders as a blueprint for city school reform.

The consultant's recommendations would bolster the power of school principals, provide incentives to schools that perform well, and make it easier for the school system to get rid of teachers and principals who do not.

The $27 million represents roughly 10 percent of the state funding the school system expects to receive in next year's budget.

The money would be withheld unless school officials agree at least to attempt to implement the changes outlined in the consultant's report. City officials also would have to agree to let the state Department of Education and legislative budget committees monitor their progress for three years.

"Aid to Baltimore schools has nearly doubled over the last eight years, but there is very little to show in the way of improved performance or accountability," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney, the Prince George's County Democrat who chairs the subcommittee that developed the proposal.

"We believe in strong local control [of schools], but we're tired of writing blank checks," Mr. Maloney said.

The committee action -- supported by Baltimore Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the panel's chairman -- outraged Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and city school officials.

"I'm shocked that a city representative would propose denying city schoolchildren money on this basis," Mr. Schmoke said. "I think it's bad policy, and if it's adopted [by the full General Assembly], it will be bad law."

He rejected legislators' suggestions that school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey has dragged his feet on school reform.

Dr. Amprey, too, denounced the committee's action as "grossly unfair."

"I think it's micromanagement," Dr. Amprey said. "I think it's insulting to me and to the efforts my management team has made."

Dr. Amprey said that the school system cooperated fully with the management consultants and has acted on some of their recommendations, including a $1.7 million cut in administrative expenses.

"It's a form of brinkmanship," he added. "They're holding us hostage."

Mr. Rawlings said he was impressed by the management study of the city school system completed last June by Towers Perrin/Cresap, a consulting firm hired by Associated Black Charities, the Abell Foundation and other groups.

"Many of us believe this study, with much broad support, could substantially change, in a very systemic way, how the school system in Baltimore operates," Mr. Rawlings said.

He particularly embraced a concept in the study to create a network of "enterprise schools" that would have greater authority over their own operations and incentives for good performance.

Mr. Maloney said he was shocked by the study's findings, among them that of 4,400 tenured teachers, only four were fired in six years, and three of those were reinstated on appeal.

In other action, the committee significantly weakened Gov. William Donald Schaefer's proposed school-choice program, which had attracted strong opposition from teachers and other groups worried about the use of public funds to send children to private or religion-affiliated schools.

As changed by the committee, the $2,900 vouchers could be used only to help the students attend schools in other public systems, not private or parochial schools.

Such vouchers would have been enough to finance tuition at Catholic elementary and middle schools throughout the city, which ranges from $1,400 to $2,500.

The vouchers would not be enough for tuition at public schools in either Baltimore or Howard counties.

Of other counties in the Baltimore area, Anne Arundel, Carroll and Harford have out-of-county fees that are near or below the voucher limit.

However, the plan allocates no money to pay for transportation so that students could get to such schools.

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