Clarke attacks Schmoke for record on schools

April 20, 1995|By Jean Thompson and Art Kramer | Jean Thompson and Art Kramer,Sun Staff Writers

Mayoral candidate Mary Pat Clarke yesterday sharpened her attack on her rival's record on education, pointedly blaming the mayor for the failings of Baltimore's school system. She said that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has maintained an "ineffective bureaucracy" responsible for poor student performance and recent embarrassments, including intervention by the General Assembly, a federal court and the state school board.ka,3

"We have lost our own schools, and we are going to get them back," she said. "We are going to get them back by promoting excellence, by being responsible and by putting our money where the children are."

Responding to Mr. Schmoke's campaign emphasis on the school system's successes, she accused him of being "out of touch" with the fears and needs of Baltimore teachers, students and parents. For effect, she chose as a backdrop the glass-strewn steps of the crumbling former school headquarters on 25th Street.

Mr. Schmoke, who is seeking a third term, countered later, saying, "Everyone knows that we are working hard to make improvements, and no one is satisfied that we're there yet, but to say that I'm out of touch is simply political exaggeration."

The candidates' comments were more strident than in the recent past.

Compared with Mrs. Clarke's announcement of her education platform March 22 -- when she refrained from barbs and Mr. Schmoke declined to reply immediately -- her searing comments yesterday depicted a struggling school system.

During Mr. Schmoke's two terms as mayor, she said, school crime has increased. Low achievement and management troubles have overshadowed recent incremental improvements in attendance and test scores, Mrs. Clarke added.

She listed the school system's recent troubles: the General Assembly's decision to withhold $5.8 million from the school administration until it makes management reforms; a federal judge's order shifting control over special education away from Superintendent Walter G. Amprey; and the state's mandated restructuring of three city schools.

In her comments and in a campaign pamphlet released yesterday, Mrs. Clarke cited statistics from school police records: During Mr. Schmoke's current term as mayor, assaults on school staff increased from 98 per year to 250 per year, she said. She also used graduation statistics from Maryland's Department of Education: only 38.9 percent of the city students who entered the ninth grade in September 1989 had finished high school by June 1993. Statewide, the "holding power" of high schools was twice as high.

Her pamphlet twists the mayor's perennial slogan to say: "The City Where Only 10 Percent Read."

Reminding voters that by profession she is a teacher, she pledged to improve school safety, achievement and management.

Her platform would limit to 3 percent the school administration's share of its proposed $647 million school budget; this year, administrative expenses account for 4.9 percent of the $632 million budget. She called for schools to manage the rest of the budget, with advice and help from the business community.

The administration has moved toward school-based financial management in a three-year, phase-in plan.

"We're moving in the right direction, no help from her," Mr. Schmoke said.

On school violence, he said, "The bottom line is that things that happen in families and around the city obviously have an impact in the schools." If Mrs. Clarke is blaming the schools for such problems, he said, "then she's out of touch."

He cited several proposed safety programs, including creation of six centers to counsel students who have assaulted teachers, and teaching violence prevention. The proposed budget also calls for adding six officers to the school police force.

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