Clock is ticking for schools partnership High-stakes game: Schmoke appears ready to shun state aid.

July 15, 1996

ONLY TWO WEEKS remain before the deadline imposed by Gov. Parris Glendening for Mayor Kurt Schmoke to agree on a partnership with state officials to improve performances in city schools. So far, the prognosis looks bad for everyone who held out hope that Maryland's school reform effort could bring badly needed changes -- and funding -- to the schools in Baltimore that are failing to educate students.

Instead, the mayor who pledged to make education the hallmark of his administration appears ready to use the schools for political purposes. He has ordered the school system to prepare to cut its 1997 budget by $18 million, the price the city will have to pay in forfeited state aid available only if a partnership is in place.

Those cuts don't include several million more in ordinary budget overruns already projected for the year. Neither do they reflect another $10 million offered by the state -- and conditioned on a partnership -- to help the city improve the schools designated for pTC reconstitution. Since the system's central offices eliminated some jobs last year, the word is that these cuts are supposed to come primarily from schools -- all the better for stirring up parental outrage against "unjust" state demands.

At least that seems to be the mayor's game plan: Defy the state and let the governor take the heat. Well, given the size of these cuts and the dire condition of city schools, let's hope parents are properly outraged. But if the mayor pursues this strategy to the bitter end, let's also hope parents take note of the facts and direct their outrage where it belongs.

Defenders of city schools are correct that there has been some progress on test results, and that the system has shown a commendable willingness to try reforms and innovations. But the region's future prosperity demands more than modest improvements. Too many schools in poor neighborhoods are still turning in dismal performances.

The mayor can continue this high-stakes game of chicken. Far better, though, for everyone concerned if he would put aside politics in deference to the interests of city children -- who are the victims in this cynical power play.

Pub Date: 7/15/96

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