State offers city schools raise in aid In return, Baltimore would drop lawsuit, reform management

'There's a long way to go'

Proposal renews talks that also could benefit seven other districts

June 19, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday offered Baltimore a multimillion-dollar increase in school aid if the city drops its lawsuit challenging Maryland's school finance system and accepts state demands for school reform.

Glendening's proposal set off settlement negotiations that could lead to sweeping changes in the lowest-performing school system in the state.

Seven other school systems serving large numbers of poor families also could benefit, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said yesterday after a meeting with the governor and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

None of the participants in the private meeting of state and city officials would reveal the specifics of the governor's management and money proposal.

The city and state have been negotiating for nearly a year over control of the school system, which gets most of its funds from the state.

Baltimore sued Maryland in September, seeking an increase in school aid and claiming that the state was failing the city's children by providing too little for their education.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a similar suit months before.

Maryland replied with its own lawsuit, charging that the city poorly manages the more than $420 million a year it receives from the state, the lion's share of its $650 million school budget.

Under the latest Glendening proposal, outlined by participants, the city and state would collaborate on management improvements, but the state would not take over the city schools.

They said those improvements remain to be negotiated, leaving unresolved the fate of Superintendent Walter G. Amprey and city school board members, who would have been replaced under a previous settlement proposal.

"I would be uncomfortable discussing any specifics at this time because we have only a verbal offer, and we're waiting for a letter outlining the proposal," Schmoke said yesterday after the meeting.

He said he would take the letter to city attorneys and the city school board.

"There's a long way to go," he added, cautiously calling this latest chapter in the on-again, off- again negotiations "a step forward."

Because Schmoke has argued for months that he would consider only a significant increase in school aid to settle the city's suit, yesterday's offer was seen as a potential breakthrough in the talks.

Schmoke has repeatedly based his case on a state commission report calling for increased state investment in school systems in poor areas.

The report said it would take $68 million to $140 million more a year to make Baltimore schools as good as some of those in surrounding communities.

This is not the first time that money has been on the table. Last year, the state offered $40 million over five years, which the city rejected. Sources close to the negotiations said Glendening's new offer is the first one big enough to be considered attractive to the city.

There are obstacles, however.

Any deal would require numerous approvals by layers of municipal and state government officials, key politicians, the parties to several other education lawsuits and the General Assembly.

To be politically palatable, it also would have to include other poor communities across the state.

Through a spokesman, Glendening declined to comment on his offer and the continuing negotiations. He referred questions to Grasmick.

"The two major points were sufficient resources, especially because of the high concentration of children in poverty, and the need to achieve the accountability and management reform," Grasmick said. "Either one standing alone won't do it."

The state would withdraw its lawsuit against the city if settlement were reached.

The latest offer came after both sides publicly stepped up the pressure in the dispute.

In recent days, Schmoke sent a nine-page letter to the governor, indicating he would go to trial rather than give the state increased control over the school system.

Glendening, as recently as yesterday morning at a meeting of state business leaders, talked tough about holding the city to high standards for school performance and management accountability.

"I think from the state's point of view, it's easy to take the position that management is the sole problem and that Baltimore City Public Schools are just riddled with problems," Schmoke said.

The focus of the negotiations has now shifted, he said, to a recognition of the role poverty plays in children's school performance.

Key state legislators, just back from a trip to Israel, said yesterday they were unaware of the governor's proposal.

"I think we need to wait and see how this ultimately evolves," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "We've been down this road before."

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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