Neighbors in suffering Pressure: Schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey of Baltimore can take solace in the fact that systems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are also undergoing trying times.

The Education Beat

June 05, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

IF THERE is comfort in knowing others suffer, too, Baltimore schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey should find soothing balm in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the urban centers bookending the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

In the City of Brotherly Love, former Baltimorean David W. Hornbeck is reported to be on the educational ropes. His "Children Achieving" reform plan has collided with the realities of school and city politics, teacher unionism, a stubborn judge presiding over a 25-year-old desegregation case and a huge budget deficit.

Last week, the now-superintendent of schools in Philadelphia asked his board to eliminate more than 700 jobs, close 10 day-care centers and take a number of other measures to help balance the district's $1.3 billion budget.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president called the proposed cuts "unconscionable." Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, Baltimore's Amprey has been approached by anti-Hornbeck members of the Philadelphia school board as a replacement for their superintendent, and this only months after the board rewarded the former Maryland state school superintendent with a $4,800 bonus for his first-year performance. (Hornbeck donated the money to three funds serving Philadelphia youth.)

Perhaps Amprey and Hornbeck, who was a finalist for the Baltimore job Amprey got five years ago, should switch places.

And in Steeltown, the professional hockey team isn't the only institution thought to be poorly performing. With an enrollment of just under 40,000 -- about the size of the Harford County system -- Pittsburgh is surrounded by 42 Allegheny County school districts, each with its own board and bureaucracy.

The county's richest and poorest districts are in the suburbs, in some cases next to each other. Such a structure only exacerbates inequities in school funding, according to a recent study by the University of Pittsburgh, which said countywide "school-based management" -- the kind of thing Amprey is installing in Baltimore -- would eliminate the need for 43 districts, "yet preserve what is important about local control."

Pittsburgh has severe budget problems, too, and its elected school board has just survived a tumultuous year in which the dispute was not about education quality, but about school attendance boundaries.

And 47 percent of Allegheny County's 11,000 eighth-graders in a recent test could not measure the distance between two points.

Two educators retiring

June is the month for closing schools -- and for closing careers. Here are two veteran educators retiring this week:

When Flora Gilchrist Johnson goes to Hilton Head, S.C., for a vacation next month, she won't have to worry about staffing requirements or the school improvement team at Mary E. Rodman Elementary School in West Baltimore. She'll be retired after nearly 30 years in city schools, the last 13 as a principal.

"I'm going to be doing a whole lot of nothing," said Johnson, one of the principals who was very much in the public eye as head of one of the nine schools operated by Education Alternatives Inc., whose contract with the city was terminated in March.

Johnson goes into retirement still a strong supporter of EAI's "Tesseract" program, most of which is still intact at her school.

"The children benefited from Tesseract," she said. "It's too bad it never had a chance to mature."

Johnson's friends and colleagues will honor her at a dinner tomorrow at Martin's West.

Julie Collier won't have to dread the late-night calls about accidents involving Goucher College students. As vice president and dean of students, it was she who had to rush to a hospital, occasionally to call parents, although she never had to impart the worst of news.

The highlight of Collier's 20 years at Goucher was the school's accepting men in 1987.

"It was a huge transition, an exciting one, and we did a good job of doing it," she said. "If we hadn't done it, Goucher might have survived [financially], but it wouldn't be as strong as it is today."

Collier said censorship issues were always hard to grapple with -- such as whether to allow a tasteless and sexist "Miss Goucher" contest. "I wouldn't censor Miss Goucher, even though I didn't like it."

Collier and other Goucher retirees will be honored at a campus reception this afternoon.

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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