Mayor asks City Council's participation in no-budget plan to spruce up schools

Each district to form team to set priorities for repairs

May 04, 2004|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley told City Council members yesterday that he needs their help in launching an effort to improve public school buildings over the summer break to rehabilitate the fiscally strapped system's battered image.

The mayor has been talking about addressing the Baltimore City school system's cosmetic concerns for a month, but yesterday was the first time he spelled out details of the plan - except how to pay for it.

He said the four priorities are: painting interiors and exteriors of schools; fixing windows that don't allow sunlight in; beautifying school grounds; and upgrading bathrooms.

"Like doors on bathroom stalls, novel things like that," O'Malley said during his monthly lunch with the council.

Later, he said, "We don't know how we're paying for these things yet."

Much of the work is expected to be performed by volunteer union members and contractors whom O'Malley has been recruiting for the effort. The city is facing a $40 million deficit and could not afford a sustained campaign, council members said.

The "Believe in Our Schools Campaign" is spelled out in a two-page memo from the Mayor's Office of Community Investment that the council received yesterday. The office is creating a working group composed of members of several city agencies, elected officials, and leaders of private businesses and nonprofit groups to oversee the building repairs.

The first task outlined in the memo is to "assess the needs of many of Baltimore's lowest-performing and most dilapidated schools." That work has started.

Once the assessments are complete, the oversight group will then issue supply and work orders aimed at fixing hallways, bathrooms, windows and grounds. O'Malley said C. William Struever, a developer and former school board vice chairman, is considering installing air conditioning in exam rooms at certain schools.

The work would be performed by teams of skilled laborers picked by the oversight group from city government and school employees and from union electricians, plumbers, painters and carpenters, the memo states. In addition, summer and volunteer laborers would be recruited for the teams.

Council members are being asked to lead 14 school improvement committees that would comprise community leaders, PTA members, district residents and district school representatives.

"Rather than being reactive, this is proactive," Councilwoman Helen L. Holton said.

The committees would work with the oversight group to establish long-term priorities for the schools in their districts and to publicize progress, O'Malley said. The districts' boundaries will match the 14 new council districts that take effect after November's election.

Council President Sheila Dixon said she supported the plan.

"It's a good concept," Dixon said. "If we can pull it off."

The plan also calls for establishing a foundation to raise money to pay for labor and materials as well as promotion of the campaign.

"It sounds good, but how are we going to pay for it?" asked Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr.

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