School rezoning delay balked City board chief adjourns session

March 19, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

A mutinous Baltimore school board tried last night to delay parts of a controversial school rezoning plan for one year but was thwarted by its chief, who ended the meeting rather than conduct a vote he said might be illegal.

"I will take the prerogative of the president and adjourn this meeting," said board President Phillip H. Farfel, banging his gavel as parents heckled him in the packed North Avenue board room.

The issue is expected to come up again in two weeks, at the April 1 meeting when the board is due to take a formal vote on rezoning.

It was a bizarre end to the combination hearing and board meeting, and the last in a series of sometimes raucous hearings, which have drawn angry parents since the plan was announced in December.

The board has revised the proposal twice because of public protests, dropping plans to close a number of schools and expanding to 12 the number of schools offering the popular kindergarten-through-eighth-grade programs.

Those changes have appeased many opponents of the plan, due to go into effect this September.

But other parents, backed by some members of the City Council, want the board to delay rezoning for a year, saying there are still problems and little time to fix them.

Last night was to have been the final public hearing on the plan -- until board member Charles L. Maker tried to force a vote.

Mr. Maker urged the board to delay all but the proposed expansion of the K-8 programs to allow more time for changes and public comment.

"I want the administration to do it right," he said. "I think we need to stop and take a step at a time."

Mr. Maker was backed by a majority of the seven board members present, who demanded an immediate vote.

"We've heard a lot of testimony from parents," said member Lloyd T. Bowser. "It's time for us to really take a firm stand, and tonight is the night to take that stand."

With a majority poised to override Dr. Farfel's pleas to follow the scheduled process, school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey weighed in.

"I see the board about to take an action which is illegal," Dr. Amprey warned, citing the state law that governs the rezoning process.

The board is required to follow its formally announced schedule for making a decision, he said. Failure to do so could leave its actions open to challenge, he said.

But Dr. Amprey's interpretation drew hoots of derision from some in the audience.

"This is the policy-making board of the school system, and if you can't take a vote, what does it mean for the parents?" asked Mindy Mintz, head of the group Students First.

After the meeting, Dr. Farfel, who himself favors delaying certain parts of the plan, downplayed the mutiny.

"It was never intended to be a decision-making meeting," he said. "This was a meeting designed to listen to the community."

Countered Mr. Maker, "I think we've put the communities off long enough."

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