At hearing, in court, battle over city schools heats up Grasmick, Amprey duel in separate news conferences

January 27, 1996|By Mike Bowler and Marina Sarris | Mike Bowler and Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

The battle over management of city schools escalated yesterday on three fronts: the federal court in Baltimore, a packed General Assembly hearing room in Annapolis and competing news conferences in the two cities.

The state Education Department, as a defendant in a lawsuit against the city concerning special education, filed papers in federal court in Baltimore calling for a "total restructuring" of the troubled system.

Meanwhile, Nancy S. Grasmick, the state school superintendent, criticized the management of the 113,000-student district at a Baltimore news conference focusing on the 37 schools, 35 in Baltimore, where restructuring has been required because of poor performance.

And Walter G. Amprey, the city school superintendent, held his own briefing in Annapolis, defending his record in complying with a consulting firm's recommendations for improving management of the schools.

After hearing from both sides, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said the panel will introduce legislation Monday denying the city nearly $6 million in school funds for failing to enact reforms quickly enough. The legislature has been withholding the money since last year, pending a progress report from Dr. Grasmick.

Dr. Grasmick and Dr. Amprey sat two rows apart at a joint hearing of the Senate Budget and House Appropriations committees. A consultant told legislators that the city has fully implemented three of 39 recommendations remaining from a 1992 study of Baltimore's school management.

'Making progress'

Led by Dr. Amprey, a squad of city administrators challenged the report, saying the Florida consulting firm had overlooked the "substantial progress we know we've made," in the words of Deputy Superintendent Patricia Newby.

Dr. Amprey said, "We're trying to demonstrate that slowly, steadily and surely our school system is making progress."

Dr. Grasmick had the last word of the day. In a quiet voice, she backed the consultant's assessment and said the schools had not made substantial progress.

"I cannot refrain from noting for you again" the conditions in the city, she said.

"My job, my reputation and my life's work as an advocate for children is on the line" in demanding reform of city schools, she said, adding, "I will not retreat at any cost."

As a result of her assessment, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, $H chairman of the Appropriations Committee, pledged to introduce the legislation denying the funds to the city, a legislative punishment for the city's failure to make substantial progress in enacting reforms recommended by the 1992 study.

The $5.9 million is designated for school administrators' salaries and benefits. The amount is equal to 25 percent of what the school system would spend on these expenses.

Legislators have an alternative to denying those funds, said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation Committee. They could require school officials to spend the money on specific items, such as staff development and bonuses for good teachers, the Baltimore Democrat said.

Amprey defended

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke sat with Dr. Amprey throughout the 2 1/2 -hour hearing but did not speak.

After the session, Mr. Schmoke said that he had "heard a lot of subjective evaluation from the consulting firm," and he defended his superintendent's efforts to improve management.

Mr. Schmoke said he had expected a negative evaluation and Dr. Grasmick's finding that the Baltimore schools need an overhaul. The mayor noted that the state Education Department has sued the city asking for a management overhaul, "so if the state had said we'd made substantial progress, it would have greatly undercut their position in the lawsuit."

On another matter, the mayor said any efforts to save money by temporary layoffs of city employees would not be borne exclusively by teachers.

"I don't want to raise anxiety levels," he said, "but the entire government has a revenue problem, and I think we've got to start talking about governmentwide solutions."

Mr. Schmoke said he would hold meetings early next week to discuss budget problems.

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