Residents feel shut out of school plans Community groups seek involvement in reform process

Groundswell of criticism

Schmoke, Glendening won't reveal names for education board

April 09, 1997|By Stephen Henderson and Jean Thompson | Stephen Henderson and Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Even as Gov. Parris N. Glendening was signing the Baltimore City school reform package into law yesterday, a groundswell of criticism continued to grow from community groups that feel left out of the process.

Although Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Glendening reportedly are in possession of a list of 18 finalists for the new nine-member school board they will select in the coming months, neither has been willing to share the details of that list with parents, community groups or others with stakes in the city.

That secrecy is fueling the fears of those concerned about the direction of the reform effort.

"Certainly, what excited us about this agreement was all the opportunity for community involvement in the process," said Susan Goering, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which filed one of three lawsuits that prompted the reform legislation. "This kind of secrecy clearly isn't in the spirit of that."

FOR THE RECORD - The spelling of C. William Struever has been corrected for the archive database. See microfilm for original story.

Officials from the Baltimore City Council of PTAs, the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association of Baltimore and the Baltimore Urban League expressed similar concerns.

"The governor and I need to meet and go over the list," said Schmoke yesterday after the formal signing of the legislation. "On the list are many names that are not familiar to me. They are all city residents. They all meet the criteria. The governor and I will meet with them."

From the beginning of the process two months ago, state officials maintained that the submitted names should remain secret to spare candidates undue public scrutiny and the embarrassment that might come with rejection.

The selection process, outlined in the school reform legislation, does not require public hearings that were standard under the old system.

Community groups submitted more than 100 names a few months ago, and the governor and mayor will choose which nine will serve from the list of finalists.

Officials have not made names public, but some community groups and individuals who submitted nominations have identified their nominees. These include Carla Hayden, director of the city's Enoch Pratt Free Library; Dr. Gwendolyn A. Bullock, a retired federal public administrator and member of the city planning commission; and current school board members Charles Maker, William Struever, Lora Mayo and Arnita Hicks McArthur.

"When they interviewed us, they were very kind to us, telling us that they were protecting our identities so that we wouldn't be hounded -- but they made clear that if we were chosen, we would be in a fishbowl," said Bullock.

A request made by The Sun for the names of all candidates was rejected by officials at the State Board of Education, who characterized the board member selection process as a "personnel matter" that is protected from public disclosure. But the new board members -- like the old ones -- will be unpaid volunteers and not employees.

The teachers union also sought the names of the potential board, but its request was rejected by the city.

Secrecy unacceptable

Some community groups -- including many that submitted nominations -- said the secrecy is unacceptable, whatever the reason.

"I think that this whole process has been very divisive in this city, and some things need to be done to pull together parents and teachers and citizens who feel pulled apart by this process," said Marcia Brown, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.

"Some steps need to be taken to show we can live with this and make it work: Let the citizens have some say at this point, if no more than to come to a hearing and hear what the candidates think about issues in education," she said.

Sheila Kolman, president of the principals and supervisors union, said her group would like the chance to lobby for candidates they nominated or against candidates they might not favor.

"They clearly aren't sharing details yet, at least not with us. But I sort of understand that they wouldn't want to deal with the lobbying they would get if they did," Kolman said.

Polarizing battle

The battle that preceded passage of the school reform legislation polarized many Baltimore officials, with some accusing officials in Annapolis of trying to strip control of the schools from city residents.

Some critics even injected charges of racism into the debate.

Rodney A. Orange, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said continued secrecy could further fuel some residents' doubts about the entire reform effort.

"It doesn't look good if we are starting off with this secrecy," Orange warned during a recent interview.

Considering the names

"Who got on this list? And will it be just the people that the state wants? Why is the public not being given the names and the chance to consider them?" Orange asked.

Katrina Kelley, director of the National School Board Association's urban schools program, said openness is imperative to any successful school reform effort.

"When you talk about these new administrative structures, it's really important to remember how crucial community involvement is in forming them," Kelley said.

"If the ultimate goal in all of this is increased student achievement, then I don't see how you can justify leaving the community out of the decision-making process," added Kelley. "We think that's a pretty basic idea."

Pub Date: 4/09/97

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