Mary Pat Clarke on Schools

April 25, 1995

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke has zeroed in on Baltimore's public schools in one of the early thrusts of her mayoral campaign. Her proposals suggest that she may be better in describing the school system's shortcomings than in prescribing solutions.

Particularly confusing is Ms. Clarke's pledge to "increase by 97 percent the amount of money spent on the classrooms." She is not talking about new money, but rather redistribution of existing allocations. She says she would transfer the funds from the "North Avenue bureaucracy" of central administrators.

We have little sympathy for the bloated bureaucracy on North Avenue. But Ms. Clarke's promise to trim the central headquarters to 3 percent of the education budget seems unrealistic, especially considering the staff and paper work needed to administer many federal and state programs, as well as the system's wide-ranging personnel functions. She needs to explain her school spending priorities in fuller detail.

Another Clarke idea begging for more explanation concerns school safety. She suggests that any student attacking a staff member should be removed from a regular school and sent to a special disciplinary facility. Meanwhile, she would "suspend and remove" students who behave violently "anywhere between the bus stop and the school."

Ms. Clarke's call for a "one strike and you're out" policy may sound appealing, but it could dump hordes of unruly children on the streets when they should be in school -- or require heavy expenses in establishing adequate containment facilities for violent or aggressive youngsters.

More frequent isolation of disruptive students is an approach worth considering. But the learning environment and overall discipline will be difficult to improve as long as many students bring to the schools the problems of their dysfunctional homes and neighborhoods, characterized by poverty of means and meanness of minds.

Along with wanting to have "real spending, curriculum and staffing authority" placed in individual schools, Ms. Clarke also hopes to eliminate the zones which currently determine which schools pupils can attend. She would direct capital funds to improve schools in which test scores, attendance and enrollment are improving.

These proposals are Ms. Clarke's opening salvo in her campaign against Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. We welcome this airing of issues, and urge her to expand on them. Baltimoreans know what the problems are. What are the real answers?

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