Punishing City Schools

March 21, 1993

Micromanagement has now reached a dangerous level in the State House. Members of the House of Delegates, in particular Del. Howard P. Rawlings and Timothy F. Maloney, want to start dictating how the Baltimore City schools will be operated. If they succeed, the autonomy of every county school system in the state would stand in jeopardy.

Messrs. Rawlings and Maloney are politicians. They shouldn't be running local schools, fire departments or police departments. Yet that is what they are proposing. They want to mandate exactly how the city schools function. Down to the number of security officers. And the number of "executive directors" named to oversee school clusters. And jobs cut from the central administration.

That's not their responsibility. Though Mr. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, makes it clear he views himself as a preeminent expert on running the city schools, he has no right to thrust himself into this local situation. That kind of government interference from Annapolis should be resisted -- vigorously.

Once the legislature succeeds in imposing its will on one school system, every local government is imperiled. Likely targets could include the bloated school bureaucracy in Montgomery County, top administrative pay scales in Carroll County's schools, overhead in Anne Arundel's schools and the large centralized staff in Baltimore County. Legislative meddling won't end there, either.

The changes decreed by Messrs. Rawlings and Maloney come from a consultant. Not all are wise. Some are costly and inefficient. Yet the delegates want to force the city to adopt all these recommendations -- good and bad -- or lose $4.8 million in aid. That's a repugnant tactic.

Yet the city already has implemented some of the recommendations. Messrs. Rawlings and Maloney don't want to give new superintendent Walter Amprey time to make changes everyone agrees are needed in city schools. Does Big Brother in Annapolis really know best?

Given the problems confronting state government, you would think delegates would focus on getting their own house in order. Our expectations are that members of the state Senate will be more pragmatic in their approach to the city schools. There's nothing wrong with sending the city a strong warning message, but legislators ought to resist the urge to start acting like extortion artists.

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