City school administrators are to blame for withheld state aid

September 30, 1995

THE SUN published an editorial (Sept. 9) and before that several articles suggesting that $5.9 million of the Baltimore City public schools' $27 million deficit was the result of cuts by the state legislature. This is not true.

Under the law, the legislature cannot cut education aid to any jurisdiction. However, it can withhold aid.

The legislature has been concerned for some time about the ability of the city schools' leadership to properly manage state and local resources and the impact that has on students.

For the fifth consecutive year, the 1994 Maryland School Performance Report indicated that the performance of city students was far lower (and in some areas declining) when compared to the performance of similarly disadvantaged students and students statewide.

In 1991, Associated Black Charities commissioned a consulting firm, Towers Perrin/Cresap, to conduct a management study. It was undertaken in consultation and cooperation with the mayor, school board and its superintendent.

The final report raised issues about the management of city schools. It offered recommendations and strategies to restructure the management system into a network of enterprise schools, in which resources are focused at the school level and principals are given greater authority.

In 1993, the legislature endorsed the Cresap report by including a provision in the state budget bill requiring the school system and state education department to enter into a three-year agreement to monitor and evaluate the implementation of these recommendations. The provision requested that the schools implement a merit-based, system-wide personnel evaluation system for teachers, principals and administrators.

The agreement stipulated in the budget bill was signed by Nancy Grasmick, the state school superintendent, and Walter Amprey in 1993, with the caveat that recommendations deemed inappropriate or not feasible would not be implemented.

The school system agreed to provide a written explanation. At the same time, the schools agreed to identify a contact person to communicate with and provide quarterly reports. In addition, the parties agreed to jointly select an independent third party to evaluate progress.

MGT Inc., a Florida based consulting firm, was selected. Its final report was presented to the House Appropriations Committee in January. MGT found that the city schools had not fully implemented 39 of the 53 Cresap recommendations.

The major barriers included: no master plan for implementation; confusion among school and central office administrators about the report; inadequate, fragmented, poorly coordinated training efforts; sweeping changes in senior-level staff within the school system and disbanding a task force responsible for implementation oversight.

The superintendent's responses to the report were disappointing. He implied the recommendations were for the purpose of providing guidance only, and there was no intention of implementing all of the recommendations to which he had earlier agreed.

Like many of my colleagues, I believe poor management practices significantly contribute to the unacceptable level of student performance. Efforts by independent consultants, state educators and budget committees have failed to produce results.

The school system has not complied with the agreement's terms and conditions. It is questionable if there was ever intention to do so. Two years after the request, the schools have not implemented a merit-based personnel evaluation system.

Desperate to inspire some action, the legislature withheld $5.9 million -- the amount estimated to be 25 percent of the expenditures for salaries, wages and benefits for administrators from the fiscal year 1996 state share of education aid.

This action is consistent with provisions included in state budget bills to withhold up to 25 percent of the salary of state administrators deemed to be responsible for poor compliance with state laws, rules and regulations governing fiscal administration practices.

The $5.9 million will be released as early as January, if the report submitted to the legislature shows evidence of substantial progress toward implementation.

The burden is on the schools to do what they agreed. If they choose not to and the money is not released, the school budget for administrators' and their staffs' compensation should be reduced.

No one else should be punished for poor management practices of school administrators and their unwillingness to comply with the agreement they entered into -- not students, not dedicated teachers and not state legislators.

Howard P. Rawlings Baltimore

The writer chairs the House Committee on Appropriations.

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