State, city urge renewal of school partnership

Officials praise initial agreement but say more work is needed

January 18, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

City and state education officials urged the General Assembly yesterday to renew the 5-year-old power-sharing agreement over Baltimore's schools.

"It has worked well. It needs to continue so we make the whole journey," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

Grasmick, city school board Chairwoman Patricia L. Welch and city schools Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo asked legislators to make a handful of small changes in the partnership, which gave the state more control of the city system in exchange for millions of dollars in extra education aid.

The agreement, the subject of a hard-fought debate in the legislature, was approved in 1997 and is set to expire this year. It was negotiated amid lawsuits against the city and state alleging that Baltimore children were receiving an inadequate education.

Original partnership

The original agreement called for city schools to receive $254 million in extra state aid over five years. Next year, Baltimore would receive about $82 million as a result of the deal, according to state education officials -- though city educators hope to receive much more under a proposal from a state education finance task force.

To receive the $254 million, city leaders agreed to a partnership with the state, giving up some power over the school system. Instead of the mayor having total control over school board appointments, the new board is selected jointly by the governor and the mayor from a list supplied by the state schools superintendent.

The legislation also called for significant changes in the 96,000-student system's day-to-day management, with the creation of a more corporate style of governance -- including a chief executive officer and a chief academic officer.

During a briefing yesterday afternoon before four House and Senate committees, an independent consultant who spent almost a year studying the school system reported that the first five years have produced results -- to a point.

`Long way to go'

"There is progress, significant gains have been made, but there is a long way to go," said Joy Frechtling, project director for Westat, a Rockville-based consulting firm. "The challenges ahead of the school system are as great as the challenges it has dealt with so far."

The Westat evaluation praised test-score gains in early elementary school grades and more effective management of spending and business functions.

Educators agreed that the city and state should continue to share responsibility for appointing school board members and that the city should be required to submit "master plans" for improvement to the state school board.

In addition to some technical changes in the partnership, Welch asked for a change in the official name of the city school board: eliminating the word "new" from "New Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners."

"We've been here for four years now, and we'd like to think we will stay around," she said.

`Worked out well'

City lawmakers, some of whom had been wary of the 1997 agreement, praised the results yesterday and indicated they are willing to support a five-year renewal.

"Some of us were reluctant when this program was before the Senate to move it forward," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the city's Senate delegation. "There was reluctance, apprehension, but it has worked out well."

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