Settlement in sight on city schools Negotiators reported nearing agreement that could avoid trial

Word expected tomorrow

Sensitive discussions continue between Baltimore and state

November 11, 1996|By Jean Thompson and Eric Siegel | Jean Thompson and Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

City and state officials are near a settlement of their multimillion-dollar dispute over the control of Baltimore's public schools -- so close that the trial scheduled to begin tomorrow is likely to be delayed a second time, sources familiar with negotiations said yesterday.

Lawyers and public officials involved in settlement talks would not comment, saying the judges who are mediating the effort have asked all parties to refrain from discussing their fragile progress.

Reached late Saturday, Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan declined to comment about the negotiations, and said his next statement would come in court tomorrow.

Originally scheduled to start Nov. 6 and postponed until tomorrow, the trial likely will be postponed again to give officials more time to work on settlement details.

"The only thing we can say at this time is that Judge Kaplan will make an announcement in court [tomorrow]," said Clinton R. Coleman, spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

At the center of the complex case is the question of who is responsible for the underachieving Baltimore schools: 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.

The case consolidates three lawsuits to be heard jointly by U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis and Kaplan.

At the urging of the judges, lawyers from the city, state, American Civil Liberties Union and Maryland Disability Law Center have been trying to craft a four-way settlement to avoid trial.

During a private meeting at the city courthouse Saturday, the negotiators reached an "agreement in principal" to reorganize school system management and supplement the city's education budget with millions of dollars in new state aid, sources said.

The last reported offer from Maryland would send to Baltimore $230 million in general school aid and more than $24 million in renovation funds over five years. It asked the city to agree to replace its school board and superintendent, and give the governor a say in selecting school board members, who currently are appointed by the mayor.

Before the product of the complex negotiations can be called an accord, however, many details still must be worked out, including agreements on the timing of proposed management changes, the sources said.

"I have been assured that there is nothing final yet. I think we are at a very sensitive stage," said Judi Scioli, a press secretary for Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Pub Date: 11/11/96

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