Time to support school reform General Assembly action: Management changes, added resources absolutely crucial.

March 17, 1997

WITH AN additional $70 million in future revenue now available to the state, a deal may be on the horizon to pass the $254 million aid package for Baltimore City's public schools. But that money won't make much difference if other essential components of the reform package aren't approved. Legislators are now considering proposals for major management changes that would include tough provisions for accountability.

Four legislative committees have been working on the complex legislation, and their votes will be important in bringing the proposals to the floor without crippling amendments or other changes. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Teachers Union has been describing parts of the legislation as "union busting provisions" and claims that teachers would lose health benefits, leave time or even tenure.

These are the kinds of issues that are traditionally left to contract negotiations or collective bargaining. To amend this legislation to include provisions of the current contract would unfairly tie the hands of the new school board.

The amount of sick leave and vacation, policies on tenure and other such questions will need to be thoroughly aired between the union and the new board in the proper setting. That setting is contract negotiations, not the General Assembly.

The union also objects that the legislation was crafted "secretly" without its input. It is important to remember that these proposals came out of a court settlement -- and that significant changes to them could reopen legal maneuvering that would further delay the chances for a significant increase in financial aid to a system that badly needs it.

The next few weeks are a critical time for the future of Baltimore City's children. These youngsters can succeed in school, and they deserve the financial resources and the efficient and accountable administrative structure that will help them do it. Legislators -- and teachers -- should make it their business to see that this reform proceeds.

It may not be perfect, but it is clearly a historic opportunity to make a significant move in the right direction.

Pub Date: 3/17/97

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