Superintendent sitting pretty Amprey: With an agreement on city schools at hand, the embattled chief has all the qualifications to be in high demand by other urban systems.

The Education Beat

November 17, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

GUESS WHO comes out of the city-state agreement on Baltimore schools in a much stronger position than ever?

Walter G. Amprey.

Yes, the same Walter G. Amprey whose alleged mismanagement of the school system led to the deal blessed by state and federal judges last week.

It's not that Amprey stands to be personally enriched when the new governing authority is forced to buy out the remainder of his $140,000-a-year contract. (It has 18 months to run.) Rather, it's that Amprey is eminently employable as an urban school superintendent -- a job for which there are few qualified aspirants in the national pool.

If Amprey wants to leave Baltimore, he has everything going for him, according to experts on urban education. He's an African-American male in his early 50s, still vigorous. His Baltimore tenure, approaching six years, is already twice that of the average urban school chief. He's been there; he's done the things city school superintendents have to do. He's suffered no major scandal.

Most important, Amprey has negotiated the treacherous political shoals that have sunk many an urban superintendent. Outside Maryland he's admired by many, seen not only as an innovator, but as a survivor. When Amprey sponsored a conference last year to showcase "innovative" practices in his system, people came from as far away as California to witness. Fellow superintendents in the association of urban school chiefs call on him for advice.

But wasn't Education Alternatives Inc. a disaster? Depends on how you look at it. Many looking in from outside credit Amprey for having the guts to pioneer school privatization.

But wasn't his management of special education so bad that a federal judge had to take it away from the superintendent and call in an oversight team? True, but that's not likely to deter a desperate urban school board in search of a new chief.

Detroit, for example. Three-year Superintendent David Snead is already on the ropes. Why? Because most of the district's 256 schools lack toilet paper and supplies, and because Snead's administration has failed to commit already-approved bond money to repair or replace faulty roofs, leaky plumbing and broken-down boilers.

"Amprey would be a very competitive candidate in Detroit if it comes open," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, an organization of the nation's 50 largest school systems. "Dallas is looking. He'd be a competitive candidate there, too, and Pittsburgh will soon be looking. I think he'd look good there."

Meanwhile, the superintendent moves into a new psychological zone. Relieved of the responsibility, he can watch his severe critics try to do a better job. The new school board and management structure -- the 15th or so over the past couple of decades -- will be influenced by the likes of Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, neither of whom has been thrilled with Amprey's management.

It's entirely appropriate that the state play a larger role in city school affairs, if only because Baltimore is becoming a financial ward of the state. Maryland taxpayers pick up 57 percent of the city's $654 million annual tab, nearly twice the portion paid by the city.

But the new managers won't have a lot to spend. The $254 million pledge of new state aid is about all the city could extract from a position of political weakness in the General Assembly. Spread over five years to make it look like a bonanza, the cash infusion (assuming it's approved by the legislature) will not bring city kids into equality with their peers in the wealthy subdivisions. It wouldn't produce equality of per-student expenditure even if it were spent the first two years.

Casserly's organization estimated Baltimore would need $577 million more annually if it were to provide services comparable to the state's six wealthiest school districts -- provide them to the thousands of low-income children concentrated in Baltimore.

So don't expect miracles from the new managers. They'll be entering what Gary Marx, senior associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, calls "the hottest kitchen in America, where there is a short-term mentality that new management can reverse the effects of social and economic problems that developed over decades."

College students surveyed on sexual habits

More than half the nation's college students engage in sex at least once a week and have had two or more partners while in school, according to a survey reported last week by the television program "American Journal."

The survey, said to be the largest ever of sex on campus, was based on a poll taken of 1,000 students on 12 campuses, including the University of Maryland.

Seventy-one percent of those polled said they almost always practice safe sex. Thirteen percent said they never do.

Pub Date: 11/17/96

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