Shift to school-based management is faulted in report as poorly planned

January 13, 1995|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore's move to school-based management, a cornerstone of reform efforts, has been poorly planned, fragmented and hindered by a lack of training -- according to a new report that a key legislator labeled "devastating."

Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said he agreed with the state-commissioned report, which assesses how well the city has shifted money, staff and authority from headquarters to schools. "We have many problems. . . . We are working them through."

The schools chief, now in his fourth year at the helm, added that the restructuring is progressing and principals have more decision-making authority than ever.

But Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the report is "devastating in terms of undermining the confidence that was building with regard to the school system."

The city school district's leaders don't share the legislature's sense of urgency about restructuring the system, he added.

State lawmakers, who reviewed the report at a House of Delegates hearing yesterday, have closely monitored the city schools. In 1993, lawmakers threatened to withhold $4.8 million from the district unless it adopted recommendations of a highly critical study issued the previous year.

But the new report suggests that the city has a long way to go. And it questions the district leadership's commitment to such restructuring.

"There is just confusion in all areas . . . as to how to move from a traditional school system to an enterprise school system," said Walter Jefferson, a member of the consulting firm, MGT of America Inc. of Tallahassee, Fla.

The report notes that the city had established 24 pilot enterprise schools in 1993-1994 and, without formally evaluating the program, expanded school-based management to all schools this school year. The 1992 study had recommended a more gradual approach, adding about 25 schools a year.

The report released yesterday calls for giving a senior-level administrator oversight for enterprise schools.

This school year, the report notes, the district started an Office of Enterprise Schools Support but it has a staff of only one person, Judson C. Porter, the former finance director for the system.

He lacks the "necessary support and resources" to carry out school-based management and his work has been limited primarily to conducting budget workshops at schools, the report says.

The report says the school system should develop a master plan spelling out policies, evaluation, professional development plans and a system for schools to purchase central office services.

School-based management is designed to change the structure of education in the city.

The idea is based on the premise that those closest to schools best know their needs. Teams of parents, teachers, community activists and others are to have more control over budgets, staffing and academic programs.

Individual schools are to purchase services from the central office -- where departments' size and budgets would be determined by the demand for their services. Schools, in turn, would receive rewards or sanctions depending on how well they performed.

But in Baltimore, the report says, individual schools have little authority. For example, staff development is the only service that schools can purchase from headquarters or other providers, and all hires must be from a pool established at central office.

The consultants also found that principals, teachers and others were confused about their new roles, and said training at all levels has been inadequate and fragmented.

But Dr. Amprey surprised a few legislators when he said, "Our goal was never to implement any of these studies" but to use them "as tools to effect change."

Referring to the earlier threat to withhold money from the city, Del. Donald C. Fry questioned Dr. Amprey's "focus" on meeting all the recommendations. "It's hard for me to believe that when the General Assembly almost takes that very drastic step that that wouldn't trigger the focus," Mr. Fry said.

Linda Recio, the project director for the consulting firm, said she believes the city could successfully make the transition to school-based management if it carries out all the report's recommendations. She said that while much work remains to be done, a few schools have demonstrated that the concept can work.

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