Victory for city children Baltimore schools: Proposed settlement recognizes need for money, better management.

November 13, 1996

WITH AN UNDISPUTED premise -- that city schools are failing to provide an adequate education to children in Baltimore -- it may have seemed relatively simple to craft a solution to the various lawsuits swirling around Baltimore City's public schools. But education issues always cut close to the bone.

In this case, questions of politics, power and race complicated what might have been a smoother, faster settlement. Fortunately, those complications proved less intractable than the determination of various parties to reach an agreement.

City schools will get at least $254 million in new funds by 2002, including an additional $24 million for capital projects. Significantly, the settlement leaves open the possibility for a further increase in the last two years of the agreement -- an incentive to the city to produce good results by that time.

Meanwhile, the city will institute crucial changes in management. No longer will school board members serve only at the pleasure of the mayor, a situation that too easily leads to patronage appointments. Instead, a nine-member board will be appointed jointly by the mayor and the governor from a list of qualified people submitted by the State Board of Education. The city board will choose the system's new chief executive officer. Under the CEO will be a chief academic officer and a chief fiscal officer.

Had a trial gone forward, the status quo would have prevailed for several more years while the cases were argued and appealed. During that time, thousands more children would have failed to receive an education that would equip them for employment in the 21st century. So the settlement is good news for school children and for the economic health of Baltimore city. No amount of effort or money spent on economic development can surmount the damage done when middle-class families desert the city in search of effective schools, or when businesses shun the city because they cannot find a stable, competent work force.

Judges Joseph H. H. Kaplan and Marvin Garbis deserve much credit for pushing the parties in these suits toward a productive solution. And no mention of this agreement can ignore the crucial role of Baltimore City Del. Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. His determination to hold schools accountable, together with his refusal to allow racial polarities to stand in the way of changes that would benefit children of all races, is a testament to courageous leadership.

Pub Date: 11/13/96

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