City parents voice concern to school head

Forum offers opportunity to air questions, criticism

April 04, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

City parents who say their voice has not been heard in plans to repair the troubled Baltimore schools quizzed the district's top administrator at a town hall-style forum yesterday and vowed to remain vigilant about improving their children's education.

"I think as we look at the problems in our schools, at some point we have to turn around and look at ourselves as parents and community leaders," said Kevin A. Slayton, president of the school system's Parent Community Advisory Board.

About 75 parents looked to schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland for answers to a range of complaints at the forum sponsored by the Baltimore Council of PTAs. Copeland was one of several panelists at the two-hour meeting at Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue, but was the only high-ranking city or school official to attend.

Copeland was peppered with questions about how the school system incurred the $58 million deficit that led to last month's frenzied state and local efforts to develop a bailout plan. Why couldn't the loan from the city be paid back over six years instead of two? What were the most critical areas of overspending that led to the financial crisis?

"I wish we could extend the time of paying off the deficit," Copeland answered to the first question. Fielding the second question, she pointed to accounting problems that allowed salaries to go unchecked in some areas.

Parents also had more basic concerns, each written down on cards, for Copeland to address.

One woman said her daughter's classroom at Carver Vocational Technical High School had 44 children, well over the system's class-size goal of 30 students per teacher for high schools. A man complained that the requirements for city school board members are too exclusive and prevent the inclusion of nonprofessional workers and parents.

Michael Hamilton, president of the Baltimore Council of PTAs, said the forum was the first of several designed to give parents a greater role in helping shape the direction of the school system. At the end of the meeting, he urged those in attendance to show up today at a rally for the city's school children outside Camden Yards on the Orioles' opening day. School activist Tyrone Powers, who served on yesterday's panel and is heading the rally today, told parents that they cannot be afraid to complain loudly, and pointedly, about inequities and deficiencies in the city schools.

"You cannot reconstruct based on lies," Powers said. "And you cannot reconstruct if you're afraid of hurting someone's feelings."

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