The real 'takeover' threat City-state standoff: An impossible situation for any superintendent.

August 13, 1996

MAYOR KURT L. SCHMOKE likes to leave people guessing. After saying before numerous witnesses that he was willing to sign on to a city-state partnership, he reversed course earlier this summer and demanded that Gov. Parris N. Glendening veto a bill that would have imposed consequences on school administrators for repeatedly failing to do what they had promised legislators they would do.

Then, despite the governor's caveat that in exchange for the veto he expected an agreement on a partnership within 60 days, the mayor said he would reject any agreement that he considered a state "takeover" of the city schools. His definition of "takeover" is anything that diminishes his authority and power as mayor over the schools, its budget, personnel and management practices.

Mayors of Baltimore have always had authority over the schools not enjoyed by any other local executive in Maryland. In the days when city coffers were full -- and when mayors appointed strong school boards and let them run the schools -- that did not present a problem. Now, however, city schools are trying to cope with the social problems common to urban school districts while the city itself is beleaguered by falling tax revenues.

Add to that a mayor who has grown fond of meddling in school affairs, especially the budget, and it is easy to understand why legislators have become so frustrated by this issue -- and why Governor Glendening finally seems ready to show some spine.

Mayor Schmoke announced last week that school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's job is safe, but he is unwilling to give Dr. Amprey or any other superintendent full authority to run the system. Dr. Amprey has taken a lot of heat for poor school performances -- and deservedly so. But it is also important to remember that the mayor has never let him really run the show.

Did the superintendent participate in salary negotiations with teachers last year? No. Did he have to cough up the money to pay for a raise the city could not afford? Yes, and it came directly from the children in the classrooms at the price of $30 per head.

How can Dr. Amprey or any other superintendent be held accountable for the schools when he isn't given full authority to run them? That is a question Mayor Schmoke is hoping taxpayers aren't wise enough to ask.

Pub Date: 8/13/96

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