More mayoral control over schools?

December 27, 1993

A panel that has been reviewing Baltimore's City Charter for the past three years has made a number of important recommendations concerning the way public schools are run. If its recommendations are accepted, first by the City Council and the mayor and later by voters, the mayor's powers over the school system would increase considerably.

An appointed school board would be retained, but the mayor would pick the superintendent from a board-supplied list. The mayor also would have the authority, after consulting the school board, to fire a superintendent without a hearing.

In rejecting an elected school board, the commission said a board appointed by the mayor "represented a cross-section of the community, providing a diversification of ideas, experiences and traditions in the development of educational policy."

The commission expressed a fear that "emotionally charged multi-district elections likely would fragment responsibility for education and produce incoherent and inconsistent educational policies."

We find the charter commission's reasoning persuasive.

While elected boards in theory promise healthy popular control, practice elsewhere has shown they too often become launching pads for aspiring politicians or are taken over by individuals or groups with narrow special-interest agendas. Baltimore's public schools have enough difficulties. An appointed school board serves as a stabilizing forum.

The school recommendations as well as a multitude of other charter revision proposals will be aired at a public hearing Jan. 5. It will be held in the Board of Estimates room at City Hall, starting at 4:30 p.m. The commission will issue its final report after digesting reaction at that hearing. The City Council is expected to act on the recommendations by the summer.

If that timetable is met, any recommendations approved by the mayor would go before voters on the November, 1994 ballot.

Aside from school recommendations, the commission proposes limiting the city comptroller's responsibilities mostly to audits, by removing the real estate and insurance purchase functions to the Department of Finance. We support that proposal, which preceded the investigation of City Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean.

Other proposals that have merit include making the fire chief the operational head of the Fire Department. A fire board, which currently runs the department, would remain but only in an advisory capacity. That, too, makes sense to us.

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