Parents, educators, politicians express relief, dismay at schools compromise It would diminish authority of mayor, but bring in millions more in state aid

July 30, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

Baltimore parents, educators and politicians reacted with mixed relief and dismay yesterday to a proposed compromise that would diminish the mayor's authority but funnel more than $200 million in new state aid to city schools.

Their diverse assessments confirmed that many obstacles lie in the path of any settlement based on the tentative deal struck last week by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

For some, the sticking point is the amount of money in the politicians' privately negotiated deal: Is it enough?

For others, it is the mayor's decision to cede some control over city schools to the governor: He is giving up too much or too little, depending on whom you ask.

Schmoke has said the governor's offer will bring more than $200 million in new aid to city schools over five years. The state now sends about $424 million to Baltimore, nearly 60 percent of the city's $653 million education budget.

"Clearly, this does not seem to be being thought of in terms of what it will buy, but in terms of what is politically possible to get," said Jerry Baum, executive director of the Fund for Educational Excellence, a nonprofit group that trains city parent groups and teachers.

"I think the financial settlement is significantly less than what is needed to do the job, but it is considerably better than what has been talked about earlier," Baum said.

For months, Schmoke had based his negotiating stance on a state report suggesting Baltimore needs up to $140 million a year in extra aid to adequately educate its children. He met with parents, teachers and clergy before taking their concerns to the governor.

"I don't want to second-guess the mayor, but it appears that he has used parental outrage as a bargaining chip to get more money for the city," said Ed Freeman, a member of Friends of Education, a city parents' group that lobbies for schoolchildren's needs. But it didn't win them enough, he added, disappointment heavy in his voice.

"The state has a long history of unequal funding for the city, and even at more than $200 million over a five-year period, we are still talking chicken feed," he said. "I expected [Schmoke] to bring home much more bacon than that."

Part of the problem people are having with the money is not knowing what it will buy, said several educators. Neither the state nor the city has made clear how the new millions would be used.

More clear cut was the issue of governing powers. The governor and mayor have proposed sharing the authority to choose school board members. The mayor now has sole authority. They also proposed replacing the city school board and top school administrators and hiring a consultant to evaluate school programs and propose a reform and spending plan.

These elements of the complex proposed deal received praise from some in the city, but were denounced by others.

"I'm for whatever management arrangement that develops as long as it's good," said Marcia Brown, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, decrying the constant warring between the city and state that has taken a toll on staff and morale. "I'm pleased with the thought of bringing in a third party, which maybe could back away from some of the personality issues, and might be able to make decisions that consider the kids first."

Pastor Marvis P. May of Macedonia Baptist Church, one of many ministers consulted by the mayor, railed against the appearance that the city was giving up control of its schools in the proposed deal.

He said he had encouraged the mayor to concede no powers. With help from parents, he said, the school system could weather the acrimony of the negotiations and the state's repeated withholding of funds until the city's legal battle could force an increase in aid.

"Once you start giving part of the school system away, you may end up with nothing at all," he said. "I have a major problem with that. Who's to say we can't run our schools? Will we still run as an autonomous school district?"

Baltimore Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, says the "conceptual agreement" is a start, but it needs much more work to strengthen the proposed new board's powers.

"What the agreement does basically is to play musical chairs. It's like shifting the chairs on the Titanic. You'd still have the same structure, the same controls, the same lack of accountability.

"I am confident we will not be approving any additional funds until a partnership is in existence that brings about fundamental and systemic change. This conceptual agreement falls far short of that."

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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