Balto. Co. principals rush to fulfill last-minute order

Smith asks for records to help in budget planning

March 14, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Angry Baltimore County principals scrambled yesterday to copy hundreds of pages of school plans, reports and letters, fulfilling a recent budget-planning request from County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

County officials said principals did not need to be involved in the last-minute school system order. But school officials disagreed.

The system's 162 principals were forced to forgo classroom observations, overseeing high-stakes testing and other obligations during the two days they were given to copy in triplicate school improvement plans, analyses of test scores and other paperwork.

"It's a slap in the face," said an elementary school principal who was burdened this week by administration of the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills. The principal requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Adding to the workload, principals said, was uncertainty about what paperwork was required.

Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said the school system often gets requests for information, especially from the county executive during budget season.

A tall order

While Hairston acknowledged that this request was unusually large, he said the school system was moving quickly because it could lead to full funding of its budget request, which calls for a $28 million increase in county contributions.

"We encourage cooperation," Hairston said. "We hope they respond to our budget request accordingly."

Matthew Joseph, the county executive's education liaison, said Smith sought the information to learn about the needs of the school system and to assess the merits of items requested in its recent budget proposal.

On March 7, Joseph said, Smith sent a letter to the school board asking for, among other things, each school's improvement plan and any district guidelines for drafting those plans and measuring progress.

The county executive also asked for any reports that schools had measuring progress under their improvement plans.

The deadline for the school system is Monday. But Joseph said, "It would be a real shame if principals were told to scramble." He said the county had expected the school system's administration would have all records, if they exist.

`Their information'

But Hairston said school officials asked principals to provide the requested papers by today to ensure accuracy.

"It is their information. We're not requesting anything they don't already have," Hairston said. The school system's central administration is rounding up systemwide data sought by Smith, such as statistics on student truancy and teacher retention.

At a previously scheduled meeting Wednesday, school officials told principals they had until today to provide school improvement plans and other records showing progress on those plans.

One principal said the eyes of some colleagues were "tearing up" after hearing the order. "It's an incredible burden." said the principal, who also requested anonymity. "Some people were devastated."

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