City, state sign deal for schools Pact settles suits by Baltimore, ACLU against Maryland

'The right thing to do'

State aid to increase by $254 million over next five years

November 27, 1996|By Jean Thompson and Eric Siegel | Jean Thompson and Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

With near-tearful relief and an outpouring of hope, officials signed yesterday a final agreement that ends a long-running battle and begins a new era in the management and funding of Baltimore's public schools.

The agreement, finalized barely an hour before a ceremonial court proceeding, provides the framework for reorganizing school management with a new role for the state and increasing state aid by $254 million over the next five years.

His voice cracking with emotion, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke told a courtroom filled with city and state officials, educators, parents and children that the struggle to improve the schools and settle three lawsuits had been "an emotional time for us," during which "some friendships have been sorely strained."

"When I came into office, I said it was my goal to make this the city that reads," said Schmoke, who was first elected mayor in 1987. "It became clearer and clearer to me that our community could not achieve that goal without a partnership with the state."

Schmoke, so overcome by the moment that he had to step back from the podium to compose himself, said he hoped future generations of city students would remember this as "the day that the adults stopped fighting one another and joined and started fighting for the children."

In an apparent reference to critics who believe the city ceded too much control to the state, Schmoke said, "I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, everything tells me this is the right thing to do."

Ovation

His remarks prompted an ovation in the courtroom as he took his seat next to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, with whom he had dined privately Monday night. The two had been close political allies, but their relationship frayed during at-times rancorous negotiations that dragged on for more than a year.

Glendening -- who with the agreement's legislative architects must now shepherd the deal through the General Assembly this winter -- called the quarter of a billion dollars in additional aid a good investment for all Maryland taxpayers.

"What will the city and the state be like if 108,000 kids graduate without having prepared for the 21st century?" Glendening said.

If the legislature fails to approve the funding by next May, the agreement will be voided and the city and state must go to trial.

Yesterday's agreement, overseen by U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis and Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, settles lawsuits brought in the last two years by the city and the American Civil Liberties Union against the state. Those suits called Baltimore's schools inadequate and demanded increases in state spending on education.

Disabled students

In addition, the agreement settles a 12-year-old federal complaint filed by the Maryland Disability Law Center against the city on behalf of disabled students. The federal court's oversight will not end, but layers of school bureaucracy it created will be eliminated.

The first step in the reorganization will be the appointment of a three-person transition committee that will begin soliciting recommendations for members of a new city school board to be appointed jointly by the governor and the mayor.

The new school board will take office when the state budget bill containing Baltimore's new appropriation is enacted, in early spring. It will replace the current board, which was appointed by the mayor.

Members of the new nine-member board must be city residents, according to the agreement, and the board, to the extent possible, "shall reflect the demographic composition" of the city, which is about 60 percent African-American.

Experience for board

To ensure that the new board reflects the concerns raised in the three lawsuits, the agreement specifies the experience that members must bring: four members must have a background in administrative leadership, three must have educational expertise, one must have in-depth knowledge of special education issues, and at least one must be a parent of a city student.

The board also will have a non-voting student member and will be advised by a parent and community board.

One significant change is that the new board will have "complete control of all personnel and procurement" including negotiation of union contracts.

Currently, major expenses require approval of the city's Board of Estimates, and union matters are handled by the city labor commissioner, a mayoral appointee.

Acting City Solicitor Otho Thompson said the city charter would not have to be changed.

The city school board is to conduct a nationwide search for a chief executive officer to replace Schools Superintendent Walter Amprey. An interim CEO will be appointed if a permanent replacement cannot be found before next fall. The CEO would be a member of the mayor's cabinet, but the executive's salary would be set by the board.

'Continuous improvement'

The security of the CEO's job will depend on "demonstrable and continuous improvement" in student performance, the agreement says.

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