Balto. County executive candidate Smith unveils proposals to improve education

Ideas include incentive pay to teach in subpar schools

October 02, 2002|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

James T. Smith Jr., the Democratic candidate for county executive, recommended yesterday giving experienced teachers and principals financial incentives to work in Baltimore County's troubled schools.

Smith, who presented the idea while sketching a broad plan for improving the school system, said he would encourage area businesses to establish a form of trust fund to pay educators bonuses for working at struggling schools and providing them with extra services.

The proposal is not universally supported, nor is it new. The county teachers union, which otherwise backs Smith, has reservations. The state and county give teachers financial incentives to work at poorly performing schools, and the local school system provides extra staff and programs.

Douglas B. Riley, the Republican candidate, shares the goal of giving incentives to the "best teachers" to work in troubled schools. On his campaign Web site, he lists several other proposals, including "breaking up" large schools and educating parents about the important role they play in their children's schooling.

Riley said Smith's proposals represented the "conventional wisdom" on improving schools.

"We would all like to have all of the things on this list, but somewhere he should talk about how he is going to fund this," Riley said.

The incentive recommendation was one of several that Smith, a former Circuit Court judge, unveiled yesterday in a speech on the steps of the old courthouse in Towson.

"Education is my highest priority," he said after being introduced by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

Other recommedendations include creating smaller schools within larger ones to limit the effects of size; encouraging business people to talk to students about the importance of education and careers; and stressing to students not bound for college the opportunities in trade and craft fields.

Several of his proposals would require more money, such as assigning a police officer to each middle school. He pledged to use new state funding that has been pledged by the Thornton Commission plan to reduce class sizes. That plan was approved this year by the Assembly.

In an interview, Smith also suggested ideas to head off discipline problems that could be accomplished without devoting extra resources, such as prodding state officials to reduce the concentration of group homes in some neighborhoods and to mandate better supervision for the homes' young residents.

Mark Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said his group wanted to discuss further the idea of financial incentives, but applauds Smith's goal of raising money for the schools from private sources.

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