Schools suit settlement hopes fading Judge says city, state disagree on amount of new aid

He views trial as likely

Glendening calls both sides 'sincere' as Nov. 6 deadline nears

November 02, 1996|By Jean Thompson and Eric Siegel | Jean Thompson and Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

After two days of intensive negotiations, chances of a pretrial settlement in the landmark lawsuit over the funding and management of Baltimore's public schools appear to be dimming, according to one of the two presiding judges in the case.

The reason is continued disagreement over how much new state aid the city would receive in exchange for giving up partial control of its schools, said Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan.

"Everybody's working very hard to resolve the matter, but it looks like we're going to probably end up trying the case on Nov. 6," Kaplan said yesterday. "There are some basic issues where the parties are not in agreement and can't be brought into agreement. And they're monetary issues."

At the center of the case is the question of who is responsible for the dismal academic performance of Baltimore's schoolchildren: the state, for not providing enough resources to educate children who bring to the classroom a multitude of social problems, or the city, for exercising poor management and oversight.

Kaplan -- who brought the lawyers to his chambers for lengthy negotiating sessions Thursday and yesterday -- said he was tTC "always optimistic" about the possibilities of pretrial settlements but acknowledged that his hopes were diminishing in the school case.

"On a scale of one to 10, previously I was 7 1/2 . I'm now four optimistic," he said.

Kaplan, who is presiding over the case with U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis, declined to discuss how far apart the parties were on the funding issue.

But sources close to the negotiations said that the city and the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the state saying it had failed to provide enough resources to give Baltimore schoolchildren an adequate education, are demanding at least $75 million a year above the annual state allocation.

The state, which has criticized the city's poor management of its schools, has countered with an offer that would average out to $36.4 million a year over five years -- a total of $182 million.

The state also is offering to boost the amount of money it gives the city for school construction and lower the city's required contribution to renovation projects, a package that would be worth about $25 million over five years, sources said.

The state also has proposed that aid based on enrollment not be decreased immediately as the number of students declines, sources said.

Currently, the Baltimore receives $430 million a year in state aid, about two-thirds of the city's annual school budget.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening said through a spokeswoman that "we remain hopeful" an accord can be reached.

"There is a sincere effort all around to succeed. We have put on the table $182 million in new dollars devoted the children in the classroom. Judge Kaplan is devoting extraordinary effort to this and is continuing to do everything he can to help the parties reach a settlement," Glendening said through his spokeswoman, Judi Scioli.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke declined through a spokesman to comment. The ACLU also said it had no comment.

In addition to the lawsuits filed by the city and the ACLU, the case includes a 12-year-old federal lawsuit filed by the Maryland Disability Law Center, charging that the city has failed to properly educate its disabled students.

Sources said that the negotiators had reached general agreement on a proposed new management structure, in which the governor and the mayor would jointly appoint the school board. Currently, school board members are chosen only by the mayor.

The proposed new school board would, in turn, hire a superintendent, a chief academic officer and a chief financial officer.

The new school management also would have its own personnel and procurement procedures, rather than relying on those of the city, as it does now, sources said.

Pub Date: 11/02/96

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