Too little, too late City schools: Legislative hearing finds little progress on management reforms.

January 30, 1996

IT LOOKS NOW as if Baltimore City Public Schools won't be able to count on the release of $5.9 million being withheld by the General Assembly pending management reforms. Legislation to remove that amount permanently from this year's allocation for the city's schools administrative services is being introduced this week. There is no word yet on what will happen to next year's allocations.

Last Friday, legislators heard testimony from the city, outside consultants and state Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. Despite yeoman's work in recent months by several administrators at the schools' North Avenue headquarters, only three of 39 recommendations were fully implemented. That was not enough to satisfy legislators, who had sent a clear message that they expected substantial progress on all the recommendations.

It did not escape legislators' notice that the recommendations that were implemented did not include some of the more urgent items on the agenda, such as putting in place sound evaluation systems for teachers and staff or clearly delineating roles and responsibilities for central office and school-based staff. The grumbling in Annapolis suggests that legislators are not happy that neither Superintendent Walter G. Amprey Jr. nor, apparently, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke took the threat of permanently withholding the funds seriously enough to knock heads and insist that these recommendations be treated as priorities.

From the beginning, consultants were warning that these changes could not be implemented quickly. Too bad Dr. Amprey did not insist that the work begin in earnest a lot sooner than it did.

The city, now facing a serious deficit in the schools, will be tempted to blame the General Assembly for such unpopular budget-balancing ideas as the 10-day furlough proposed by Dr. Amprey. That won't wash. The $5.9 million denied the city is specifically earmarked for administrative expenses at North Avenue. Dr. Amprey might want to make up for some of that money by docking his own pay or that of other administrators -- but he can't dock teachers and blame Annapolis.

The credibility of the city schools' management has reached a low point in the General Assembly. It will take a new system of accountability to justify the state funds that are needed to fix city schools.

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