Mayor backs Amprey on progress Draft study says administrative problems persist

'I'd have to give them a B'

Support comes on eve of state decision on funding city schools

January 13, 1996|By Jean Thompson and JoAnna Daemmrich | Jean Thompson and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

On the eve of General Assembly decisions affecting school funding, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is backing his superintendent, even as a consultant's new report suggests that management problems persist.

The mayor's confidence and the study's criticisms form opposing assessments of Dr. Walter G. Amprey and his administration's efforts to improve the school system.

A draft of the consultant's report states, among other things, that the school system has made "no significant effort" since last January to implement 39 of 53 recommendations to improve management. City school officials counter that plans should produce results in coming months.

The draft report from MGT of America Inc., of Tallahassee, Fla., raises questions about school officials' commitment to improvement, faulting them for waiting until last fall to make progress -- and then only after being prodded by a memo from the mayor.

But yesterday, Mr. Schmoke gave a more upbeat evaluation of the school system's efforts.

"I'd have to give them a B," he said when asked about his pledge to issue a "report card" by the end of last year. "I thought they had done a good job, but there were still some areas for improvement."

It was a vote of confidence, but not enough to assuage worries about the fate of $5.9 million for the school system in the General Assembly, which withheld the money last year to force the city to make changes recommended by a series of management studies since 1992.

The mayor says he discussed with Dr. Amprey last fall a list of the state's concerns, among them a "woefully inadequate" computer record-keeping system, a weak employee evaluation system and test security problems. Dr. Amprey replied with a "priority list" of a half-dozen management deficiencies in need of repair; many matched the state list.

The backdrop to the dispute is a city-state war of lawsuits. The city has accused Maryland of underfunding its schools, leaving children inadequately educated; the state countersued, claiming Baltimore mismanages the money it already gets.

Since 1992, various management studies have shown the way for the school system to shift funds and authority from the central office to school principals and community-based school-improvement teams.

The MGT draft notes multiple instances of incomplete or promised efforts. As examples, training for principals has been planned but not implemented, and a new system for evaluating teachers has been outlined, but must be fleshed out this spring.

The draft also notes some progress, including the start of training for school-improvement teams, and additional staff working in the office that helps schools manage money.

Last April, the General Assembly decided to withhold the $5.9 million until it saw "significant progress" on these and other recommendations, Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said yesterday.

"My parents always told me the proof of the pudding is in the eating. My colleagues and I are waiting to hear and review the findings as to whether the school system has made substantial progress," Mr. Rawlings said yesterday.

The legislators have asked the State Department of Education for a recommendation by Jan. 26 based on the final version of the consultant's report. The draft report is circulating among state and city education officials.

City school officials disagree with MGT draft's conclusions and its "editorializing tone," Dr. Amprey said yesterday. "We're concerned about inaccurate statements, which suggest we should be farther along than we are. This type of management study should be a tool to help the city, not to damage it, not to continue to identify everything they think is wrong. They are using it to punish."

Other city school officials also suggest the State Department of Education, which paid the consultant $70,000, influenced the report's tone.

State education officials declined to comment about the draft. But Delegate Rawlings said, "I'm surprised at their [the city's] early pre-emptive strike to undermine the credibility of the report and to attack Dr. Nancy Grasmick," the state schools superintendent.

Although the mayor has not seen the report, he said yesterday that "MGT feels what the schools have noted as accomplishments are just elaborate plans. Dr. Amprey feels he has actually implemented some things."

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