State help for city schools Pending lawsuits: State-city partnership could create national model for urban schools.

January 21, 1996

NAME AN URBAN school system anywhere in the country and you will find some kind of crisis. Whether it's lagging test scores or pending lawsuits with state and federal judges looking over their shoulder, urban systems everywhere are suffering from many of the same problems plaguing Baltimore City public schools.

In the long run, the solutions lie both within the city, where management concerns must be addressed, and in Annapolis, which can provide the extra funds that city schools desperately need. The discussions between Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and state schools officials are aimed at satisfying pending lawsuits but could have far broader impact.

Mr. Glendening, who saw first-hand the problems caused by court-imposed school busing in Prince George's County, is eager to reach a settlement before one is dictated by a state or federal judge. That's a wise move.

For his part, Mayor Schmoke is both wise and courageous to let these discussions go forward. Legislators in Annapolis have made it abundantly clear that any increase in funding for city schools must be accompanied by stronger standards of accountability.

Despite school officials' claims that they are headed in the right direction, flawed management practices are obvious. One example: Last fall, the city finally announced plans for a teacher evaluation system that had been demanded by the legislature almost three years ago. The plans still have not been RTC implemented. No other school system in Maryland has this kind of trouble putting in place such a basic tool of management.

The broad outlines of this city-state partnership leave many details unaddressed -- as they should. These discussions are an effort to satisfy litigation, not an attempt to enact a wholesale takeover of a city bureaucracy by the state. Once agreement is reached, there will be time to agree on specifics.

It's clear that the only way to get the financial help the city needs to improve its struggling schools -- from the legislature or from foundations and other private sources -- is to ensure accountability. The partnership being offered by the state is a good answer to that dilemma, leaving much authority on the local level while insisting that basic tenets of good management are in place.

This is a promising development, once that could eventually provide a model for other troubled urban school districts.

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