Questions and Answers on School Reform

August 04, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Frequently asked questions about the governor and mayor's proposal to reform city schools:

What is this fight about?

In December 1994, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland filed suit against the state on behalf of Baltimore children. The lawsuit claims that Maryland fails to provide them a decent education. Baltimore filed a similar suit in September 1995. Both demand an increase in state school aid.

In October, state education officials responded with a lawsuit. Their claim: The work of educating the children falls to the local school district, and Baltimore hasn't done a good job of managing its resources and staff. Maryland demands an overhaul of Baltimore school management.

Where are we now?

A trial has been scheduled on the merged cases. It is set to start Nov. 6.

Settlement talks began more than a year ago.

Can these lawsuits be settled?

On July 27, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Gov. Parris N. Glendening agreed on the key management changes and dollars seen as the framework of a deal.

Details are sketchy, and the substance of the agreement remains to be added. Approval will be needed from lawmakers, education policy-makers and all sides in the three lawsuits.

How much would Baltimore get from the governor?

Glendening pledged to give Baltimore $182 million over five years to improve its schools.

The mayor says Glendening also pledged $25 million a year beginning in 1998 from slot machine revenue, if state leaders legalize that form of gambling.

In total, if both deals held, Baltimore would stand to gain $282 million over five years.

From where would the $182 million come?

It is presumed that it would come from the state's tax- and lottery-supported general fund.

What is city school spending, and the state's contribution?

Baltimore's operating budget for schools is $653 million a year (by comparison, the new Ravens football stadium is being built in Baltimore for $200 million).

The state currently contributes about $424 million to city schools, an amount that fluctuates annually with the size of school enrollment.

How would the city's new money be spent?

Of the $182 million pledged:

$19.5 million must be used to boost city teacher salaries so that eventually they would be on par with those in nearby school systems.

$32.5 million would be set aside as grants for schools with high percentages of students living in poverty.

$130 million would be earmarked for improvements to the schools with low or falling scores on the annual state exams used to judge school quality.

The $100 million in slots money is ostensibly for schools, but city officials have already identified other projects that might benefit -- such as promotion for the newly expanded convention center.

Specific spending decisions would come later. The governor and mayor want to hire an education consultant to evaluate current programs in the schools, and to recommend which to keep, expand or discard.

Who would do the evaluation?

The consultant has not been chosen. The mayor has recommended a firm that has been considered as a trial witness for the city.

What did the mayor agree to do?

The mayor pledged to create a new school board and to give up his authority to appoint its members alone. He would allow nominations to be screened by the state school board. And he would share with the governor the power to appoint members.

He also agreed to reconfigure the top ranks of school government. The superintendent would be replaced by a trio of managers: a chief executive officer, a chief academic officer and a chief financial officer.

What would happen to the city school superintendent?

Walter G. Amprey could apply for a position in the proposed hierarchy, its architects have said. But they have hinted directly that the new school board likely would not choose him for any of the top positions.

What about parents and their concerns?

The proposed agreement also would create a parent advisory board, assigned to meet regularly with the new school board.

Beyond a PTA, it is proposed as a citywide forum for parents' concerns about education policy.

Would the deal need a court judgment or legislation?

That depends on whom you ask.

The ACLU, the state school board, the state schools superintendent and several key legislators want the settlement to be cemented in an enforceable document.

Alternatives are a charter revision or a consent decree approved by judges.

The mayor does not favor a consent decree or charter revision. In its current form, his agreement with Glendening would restore his full authority once schools are better, in three to five years.

How soon would changes begin to take place?

No one is sure.

The governor and state officials repeatedly have said they can put plans into action by next month. However, city school managers say this could be disruptive as they prepare for the start of classes Sept. 4.

None of the negotiators has specified what changes could occur in a month. A list of possible school board members might be drafted by September, Christopher Cross, the state school board president, said last week.

What are the chances it will still end up in court?

If settlement is not reached, if agreements fall apart, if slots are not approved or if pledged money does not materialize, a trial is still very possible.

Both sides have collected more than 100 depositions and lined up expert witnesses.

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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