Rare chance for city schools Schmoke must act: City-state partnership would bring aid to beleaguered system.

April 05, 1996

GOV. PARRIS GLENDENING and the General Assembly have seized a rare chance for significant improvements in Baltimore City's troubled schools. A budget agreement provides $12 million in new funds and assures release of another $12 million in withheld funds -- provided Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke agrees to a city-state partnership to remedy chronic management problems.

The mayor must act soon. A federal judge has scheduled hearings for May 2 and May 3 to decide whether to place the city schools' management information system (MIS) and its collateral functions into receivership. The school administration's failure to put in place an adequate system for tracking students has been a roadblock to resolution of a long-running class-action lawsuit concerning special education.

Placing the MIS under court supervision is a prospect no one likes, and for which the court is ill-suited. It would put the courts deeply into the affairs of school attendance officers, along with all aspects of keeping track of enrollments, drop-out rates and other basic data.

A city-state partnership may not be easy for the mayor to sell to all his constituents, but it would surely be preferable to handing huge parts of the system over to the courts. Observers of this long-running lawsuit predict that without some drastic action, receivership is a likely outcome to the May hearings.

If the partnership takes effect and city schools begin to show stronger results, everyone wins. City children get a better education, while state legislators get some assurance that the additional aid they are allocating to the city can indeed reap rewards. As things now stand, many legislators are convinced any increase in funding to city schools will simply be swallowed up by an ineffective bureaucracy.

No wonder Del. Howard P. Rawlings, House Appropriations Committee chairman and a city legislator determined to defend the educational interests of city kids, has been adamant about withholding funds for administrative functions to pressure school and city officials to take management failings seriously.

This deal represents the best chance for significant, positive change in the city's schools in many years. Mayor Schmoke should grab it.

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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