State funds being sought for troubled high schools

April 28, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

Responding to a torrent of criticism of the state's threatened intervention at Frederick Douglass and Patterson high schools, several Baltimore City Council members said last night that they would seek additional state money to improve the schools.

"There's emergency money for floods and other disasters," said Councilman John L. Cain, a 1st District Democrat. "I don't see why there can't be emergency money for educational disasters -- or what the state calls educational disasters -- at these two schools."

Three other council members -- Carl Stokes, chairman of the Education and Human Resources committee, Lawrence A. Bell III and Sheila Dixon -- also called for more state money for the two schools.

At a committee hearing on the two schools -- the only targets of a new "academic bankruptcy" measure allowing state intervention in failing schools -- the lawmakers said they planned make a formal request soon for the increased state aid.

They did not say how much, but they agreed that more money must be funneled into the schools to develop and carry out improvement plans required under the state measure.

Nancy S. Grasmick, the state school superintendent, acknowledged the need for more state money for Baltimore and said she has consistently supported fundamental changes in school funding that would have sent tens of millions more to poorer districts, including Baltimore. But a gubernatorial commission on school funding, bowing to fiscal realities, dramatically scaled back its proposal in December.

About 50 people representing Douglass and Patterson turned out at the hearing. Critics said both schools desperately need more money and more time to make improvements, complained that they had been excluded from improvement efforts and worried that the schools would end up in the hands of a private company.

The hearing came a week after Dr. Grasmick accepted the key provisions of a Douglass plan to stave off state intervention but rejected Patterson's plan to remove the school's entire 130-member staff.

She said she supported the Patterson housecleaning but rejected the plan solely because it lacked enough specifics to guarantee improvements at the school after any shake-up.

The city school district can now appeal rejection of the Patterson plan or seek Dr. Grasmick's approval for a rewritten plan.

Critics, including Mr. Stokes, D-2nd, complained that the dozen schools run by Minnesota-based Education Alternatives Inc. -Z receive more money per pupil than almost every other school in the city.

They argued that Patterson, Douglass and other city schools deserve the same advantage but said emphatically that they don't want the company taking over their two schools, as some fear might happen.

"Two things are needed to restore Douglass to an academy of excellence; these things are time and more resources," said teacher Clarice Herbert, a member of the Save Our School Douglass coalition.

Ms. Herbert said that despite Dr. Grasmick's conditional approval of the Douglass plan, which would divide the school into separate academic and career-preparation programs, "the threat of privatization still looms over Douglass like a dark cloud."

Patterson teacher Phillip Pucher, chairman of the school-improvement team, echoed those fears. "We fear that there's a hidden agenda, and that hidden agenda is privatization," he said. "And we need to stand up to that."

Dr. Grasmick said the state has no immediate plans to turn either school over to a private company, university or other outside operator. "But we do have a commitment, and we can't recoil from that commitment, and that is that no child should be required to attend a school that does not provide a quality education."

Dr. Grasmick had been considering improvement plans for Patterson and Douglass that were sent to her by the city school system April 1.

Committees, including principals, parents and teachers at both schools, worked with top city school officials to devise the plans.

The state superintendent identified the two schools as targets in January as part of an unprecedented state effort to reverse the slide at schools beset by continuously worsening attendance, dropout rates and standardized test scores.

Under the new measure, if Dr. Grasmick rejects an improvement plan, the state could require the local school system to change principals, staff, curriculum or teaching methods.

The measure also allows the state to turn over operation of the schools to a private company or university.

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