Glendening risk to city schools Lack of leadership: Promising partnership could go forward with small appropriation.

March 17, 1996

IF ANYONE NEEDS proof that Baltimore City's school system is in serious trouble, consider these recent developments:

The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office are investigating the failed multimillion-dollar computer system designed for tracking special education students. The system was so flawed it had to be replaced.

A federal judge has issued a cease and desist order against the superintendent forbidding further harassment of employees charged with setting up an adequate replacement system for tracking special education students.

Evidence suggests teachers at five city schools tampered with results in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.

A legislative auditor reported to the General Assembly that the city's system of tracking enrollment is so inadequate the state may have been overpaying the city by millions of dollars.

Hovering in the background is a 12-year-old class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of the city's special education students who are still not receiving the services they need. That lawsuit could reach a climax later this year, with the distinct prospect of having the city schools placed in receivership.

Fortunately, there is a way to avoid that, a city-state partnership that could give the system the help it needs to reorganize. City and state officials worked out a plan acceptable to both parties, and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is ready to embrace it if the state can come up with extra funds to make the deal politically palatable.

Astoundingly, Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who fancies himself a mediator, is about to throw away the city's best chance to satisfy the courts and, more important, ensure that 113,000 children get a decent education. He claims he simply can't come up with the relatively small sums that would be needed.

Meanwhile, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and the Department of Fiscal Services have identified $12 million from a fund set aside to cover any cuts in federal spending. The state would replace the money over a two-year period. That, along with the $5.9 million that will otherwise be withheld from the city schools, should be enough to make the partnership fly.

In comparison to this opportunity, Mayor Schmoke's scheme-a-week approach to school reform embracing choice, appointing the union president to the school board, etc. shows his desperation. It is an opportunity that may not come again, and all it needs is support from the governor.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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