Schmoke says school changes pave way for more state funds

January 18, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that giving Maryland joint control over city schools is the best way to gain a long-sought significant increase in state funding.

"It's becoming clearer and clearer to me that the state is not likely to give this substantial investment of funds to city schools without some increased say over policy," Mr. Schmoke said in his first public comments on the issue.

The mayor told reporters at an impromptu news conference that the city felt it had a "strong case" in litigation filed against the state seeking to reduce disparities in school funding, one of several lawsuits that would be settled by the proposed reorganization.

But, he said, "It's pretty clear the litigants could drag out the case until well into the next century."

"It's not helping the children to battle in court," Mr. Schmoke added.

On Tuesday, The Sun reported that top city and state officials, including Mayor Schmoke and Gov. Parris N. Glendening, had been involved in talks to eliminate the position of city school superintendent and the school board. In their place would be three high-level administrators and a governing board selected by city and state officials.

Baltimore currently receives $330 million in state aid for its education fund -- about half of its $649 million schools budget.

The city's total share of state school aid is $420 million, which includes $54 million for state-administered teachers' pensions. In the budget he proposed yesterday for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Mr. Glendening would raise that $420 million figure to $424 million. The increase would have been larger had city school enrollment not declined by 3,100 in the last year.

Mayor Schmoke declined yesterday to say how much more money the city was seeking from the state, saying that was a key element of the negotiations.

"There are an awful lot of issues that have to be discussed," he said. "We are going to continue with these discussions."

Mr. Schmoke said the discussions "couldn't impact the budget that the governor will be presenting to the legislature this week," although others noted that Mr. Glendening could propose additional funds as part of a supplemental budget later in the session.

Nonetheless, the mayor said, "I think all of us are trying to work diligently to get at least a framework drawn through the end of this legislative session."

Once that is done, he said, teachers and other groups would be included in the talks.

"The mayor by himself can't act," he said.

Although he continued to express faith in school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, Mr. Schmoke said the talks so far have concentrated on broader issues rather than the question of what role, if any, Dr. Amprey might have in the reconstituted school system.

"I have a very strong feeling that Dr. Amprey is moving us in the right direction," the mayor said. "I recognize that others may disagree."

Mr. Schmoke said state officials agreed that Baltimore's move to individually managed enterprise schools is the "best concept for city schools."

State officials had "no desire" to take over city schools, the mayor said, but rather wanted what he called a "new partnership" to manage the system.

The current talks grew out of a suggestion Mr. Glendening made "months ago" to create a "new entity to oversee the use of state resources," the mayor said.

"He has some question in his mind about how effective the management has been," Mr. Schmoke said of the governor.

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