Doubts shadow accord on schools Schmoke-Glendening agreement leaves other leaders in dark

August 01, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jean Thompson contributed to this article.

Six days after Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced a sweeping "conceptual agreement" on the future of the city's schools, virtually none of the other key players involved has anything but the vaguest notion of what the two men agreed to.

When the governor and Baltimore's mayor announced a handshake agreement Friday and promptly left town on vacation -- Glendening to California and Schmoke to Bermuda -- they left behind an information vacuum that has state leaders increasingly doubtful about whether the Glendening administration has achieved its goals for reform of the school system.

Questions about whether the agreement has any teeth have led to an apparent breach between the governor's office and the state Board of Education and prompted at least one powerful legislator to call for a special session of the General Assembly to impose a solution.

Meanwhile, the city was back in court this week with another filing in its long-running legal battle with the state.

As of yesterday, the state school board, the state Senate president and the chairmen of the General Assembly's powerful appropriations committees had not seen a written version of the agreement.

Raymond C. Feldmann, the governor's deputy press secretary, said that is because there is none. He said yesterday that Major F. Riddick Jr., the governor's chief of staff, was drafting a written version of the agreement based on briefings from the governor.

Riddick is expected to brief a joint meeting of four assembly committees Tuesday on details of the agreement.

Feldmann said he was unsure whether Riddick would have a text of the agreement available by the time of the hearing.

Based on what little they have heard about the agreement, legislative leaders and educational officials have said that Glendening didn't strike a tough enough bargain with Schmoke, a key political ally.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's Democrat, has criticized the proposed agreement as too weak.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairman the House Appropriations Committee, has called for a special session to impose a binding agreement on a state-city partnership to run the school system.

Tuesday, the state school board issued an unusual challenge to a sitting governor when it expressed "deep reservations" about the agreement with Schmoke in a news release.

The board said in the release that board President Christopher Cross and Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, would support legislation proposed by Rawlings to impose a solution along the lines the school board has been seeking.

Grasmick was briefed

That announcement is particularly significant because Grasmick is one of the few officials the governor has briefed on the agreement.

Grasmick was unavailable to comment yesterday.

Cross expressed dissatisfaction that the agreement apparently does not resolve continuing legal disputes between the city and the state.

The city is suing the state, claiming the state's funding of the school system is inadequate.

Cross also said the governor has no authority to reach any settlement without the board's consent.

He said the board has no intention of withdrawing its countersuit until it has an agreement it is satisfied with.

Legislators' unease increased yesterday when they learned that the city government went to Circuit Court on Tuesday to file a motion asking Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan to issue a declaratory judgment that the state has no power to withhold approximately $29.9 million from the troubled city school system.

Earlier, Judge Kaplan rejected a similar plea made on the same grounds.

The filing's credibility was impaired by its erroneous assertion that the state failed to deliver $5.9 million in aid that had been frozen by the legislature. That money was received in early July.

The motion aggravated already-strained relations between the Schmoke administration and legislators.

'Lack of good faith'

State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said the timing of the motion amounted to "a lack of good faith" on the city's part.

"I don't understand who's strategizing on their behalf, because their strategy doesn't make any sense," she said.

With the governor away, his press secretary on vacation and Riddick unavailable for comment, Feldmann was left to defend the governor's agreement.

The deputy press secretary expressed confidence that the agreement could be translated into a definitive accord.

"The governor believes he has reached an agreement on all the significant details with the mayor," Feldmann said.

He predicted that all of the details of an agreement will be settled before the school year begins.

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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