Grasmick's voice heard on teacher shortage Plans: The governor and his Republican challenger have proposals to address the impending problem, but the state school superintendent's package will carry the most weight.

The Education Beat

October 28, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

STATE SCHOOLS CHIEF Nancy S. Grasmick yesterday became the third prominent Marylander to weigh in with proposals to address an imminent -- and severe -- teacher shortage.

The other two, both heard from this fall, are the candidates for governor, Ellen R. Sauerbrey and incumbent Parris N. Glendening.

Sauerbrey and Glendening would use part of the state budget surplus (accumulated during Glendening's term) for scholarships and other inducements to attract teachers to Maryland schools. Grasmick added several ideas, such as financial incentives to attract and retain teachers.

Of course, the General Assembly will have much to say about what happens to all three packages, but one carries the most weight -- Grasmick's.

Governors and candidates for governor promise the moon and stars in education because they gather from numerous polls that education is the top concern among voters. But their real influence over what goes on in the schools is limited.

In some cases, they have no influence, though that doesn't stop them from campaigning as if they did. For example, Glendening's latest television commercials say his "education testing program has made Maryland a nationwide model."

Correct in every way but one: The governor had nothing to do with the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. Indeed, he had grave doubts about MSPAP when he ran for governor four years ago. The program dates to his predecessor, William Donald Schaefer.

Sauerbrey talks about "returning phonics" to the public schools. As Harford County Del. Nancy Jacobs found out when she introduced a bill this year to make phonics the primary method of teaching reading in Maryland, legislators are extremely reluctant to dictate local school policy.

Grasmick already has used her bully lectern to help elevate reading to the No. 1 education issue in Maryland and to push through several measures aimed at improving the teaching of reading.

But doesn't the governor control by having the power of the purse? Yes, to some extent. And with the state awash in surplus, he can be magnanimous.

Glendening dealt millions to schools in Prince George's County and Baltimore. He proposes spending $500 million over two years on school construction. If he's re-elected, some of that money will go for political chits redeemable in the legislature. All will go to help persuade constituents that he's concerned about education.

But schools don't vote, and money for school building doesn't buy a lot of votes; it's not very sexy. Besides, school construction projects have to get past the Interagency Committee on Public School Construction (one of the three members is Grasmick) and the state Board of Public Works. The school construction fund "is not a governor's private kitty," said Yale Stenzler, who heads the fund and has worked for several governors.

Rule of thumb: The closer to the schools and the people who care about them, the greater the influence. That includes General Assembly members, council members and commissioners, school board members, local superintendents, Grasmick and her board. Most powerful of all, from a parent's standpoint, are the principals who carry out state and local policy in the state's neighborhood schools.

But wouldn't Governor Sauerbrey simply dump Grasmick and install her own superintendent?

This is the biggest myth. For one thing, Grasmick is appointed by a board whose unpaid members, appointed by the governor, have staggered terms. For another, Grasmick has accumulated so much influence and so many friends in her seven years as superintendent under two governors that whoever wins Tuesday needs her, not the other way around.

As for what to do about the teacher shortage, all of the interest groups are lining up. The teachers colleges, never generously funded, want and deserve more. Karl K. Pence, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, says the problem is retaining teachers, not hiring new ones.

And the policy issues are thorny. Every proposal has monetary and policy implications. What's needed is a united effort, no matter who wins Tuesday.

Booms annoy neighborhood near band competition

Those explosions you heard Saturday night in Towson came from Minnegan Stadium, site of an all-day high school band competition at Towson University.

Cannons used in some of the productions set off car alarms in the neighborhood, frightened pets and annoyed residents. Happy Halloween!

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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