State seeks grip on city schools Baltimore discusses shared control to gain more financial aid

Idea addresses lawsuits

Superintendent, school board would be eliminated by plan

January 16, 1996|By Jean Thompson and JoAnna Daemmrich | Jean Thompson and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Baltimore and Maryland officials secretly have been discussing a proposal that calls for giving the state partial control of city schools and eliminating the superintendent and appointed school board, say officials familiar with the details.

In exchange for allowing Maryland to share control of the city's 184 schools, Baltimore would receive an increase in state school aid, the officials said.

Still in draft stages, the proposal calls for building a new top echelon: a chief executive officer, a chief academic officer, a chief financial officer and a governing board selected jointly by city and state officials.

Because it would raze the current bureaucracy, the proposal seems to indicate that officials at high levels of government have lost faith that the school system can be fixed from within by Schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey. Yesterday, Dr. Amprey declined to comment on the proposal.

The proposal being discussed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the state school board, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and city officials would settle three major public education lawsuits.

"We've been in discussion with the state about a comprehensive settlement of all outstanding litigation. As a part of those discussions, we've discussed options for a new partnership between the city and state in managing the public schools," said Lynnette Young, the mayor's chief of staff.

Mr. Schmoke would not comment last night because the negotiations are in a very preliminary stage, Ms. Young said.

State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick led the delegation of state education officials that presented the initial proposal to Mr. Schmoke before Christmas. Yesterday, Dr. Grasmick said of the negotiations, "the motivation is to provide quality educational opportunities for the children of Baltimore City."

Many aspects of the proposal make it extremely tenuous, say officials familiar with negotiations. For example, key parties to the lawsuits -- organizations and people affected by the proposals -- remain outside the small circle of negotiators. Also, legal ramifications and logistics have not been researched fully. Changes in state legis lation and the city charter may be necessary. The pact would need approval by a federal judge and state judge.

For city officials, the agreement hinges in large part on receiving a significant boost in state education funding. The city receives more than $330 million in state school aid, and sued in September to wrest an increase from Maryland. The state filed a countersuit, calling for a total restructuring of the school system and charging that city schools were poorly managed.

A third lawsuit that would be settled by the proposal is a 12-year-old federal special-education case brought against Baltimore by advocates representing disabled students. They charged that federal guidelines ensuring education for disabled students were not followed. This winter, lawyers for the disabled students asked the judge in that case to strip Baltimore of control over part or all of the school system.

Officials familiar with the negotiations did not identify how much money Maryland would be willing to add to Baltimore's school budget. They said Mr. Glendening's help has been sought to resolve this aspect of the negotiations.

The amount, however, would not approach the $140 million increase that the city seeks through the lawsuit filed against the state in September, the officials said. How much Mr. Schmoke will settle for is not clear, either.

Officials close to the negotiations describe the proposal as Maryland and Baltimore's best chance to end protracted and expensive legal battles -- and improve leadership in the troubled urban school system.

Although last week Mr. Schmoke publicly supported Dr. Amprey and gave him a grade of "B" for his efforts to improve school management, the mayor's participation in the talks indicates his willingness to try new leadership.

None of the officials familiar with the proposal would comment on Dr. Amprey's fate. His current job would be eliminated by the settlement.

Whether a place for Dr. Amprey would exist in the new school government remains unclear, say some of those officials. Others close to the mayor say his faith in Dr. Amprey has not dimmed. The top academic position might be offered to the superintendent, who is in his fifth year in office, they say.

Mr. Schmoke is not opposed to eliminating the city school board, say several officials familiar with the negotiations.

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