Decision on city schools expected by tomorrow

Judge to rule on 3 plans for special education

August 11, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN STAFF

A federal judge is expected to rule by tomorrow on whether to cede a sizable portion of control over the city school system to the state or an outside administrator, ending a power struggle that has intensified this summer as the latest twist in a long-standing special-education lawsuit.

Concluding two days of testimony, U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis said he would make the "urgent decision" on which of three plans to put into place by the end of the week.

"I'm faced with a very urgent decision for a lot of reasons," Garbis said yesterday, noting that school begins Aug. 29. "I can't delay on this."

The city and state are defendants in a 1984 lawsuit filed by the Maryland Disability Law Center. The lawsuit accuses the defendants of failing to provide adequate services to the city's students with disabilities.

At issue are services such as physical therapy, speech therapy and counseling that 10,000 of the special-education students are required to receive by law.

Most recently, city school officials agreed to provide at least six hours of such services to 8,000 students this summer to compensate them for lapses during the school year.

But this month, officials learned that only several hundred of those students have received the services. In court, city officials said another 174 began receiving services Monday.

Also yesterday, Garbis ordered a Sept. 8 hearing to determine whether the city should be held in contempt for violating previous orders. City attorneys, however, asked for and received the chance to come to an agreement with the other two parties by week's end.

Garbis has been presented with three vastly different plans.

The state's $1.4 million plan involves sending nine state-appointed managers from other school districts and the Maryland State Department of Education to work in the city school headquarters. The managers would report to the state superintendent, an arrangement that city officials consider an attempted state takeover.

City officials unveiled their plan Monday to hire two out-of-state consultants. The international consulting firm of Alvarez & Marsal would be hired for up to $1.3 million for 10 months of work. It would work with Sue Gamm, a special-education consultant.

And yesterday in court, Donna Wulkan, an attorney for the students with disabilities, argued that the judge should appoint David Gilmore, an independent transportation administrator for the District of Columbia's public schools, as an outside authority to manage the "related services" pertaining to special education.

The plaintiffs maintain that the state and city have been at loggerheads for years and that appointing an outside authority would prevent further problems.

Gilmore, a consultant who was appointed to the District of Columbia school system by a judge, has control over his budget there and reports to the court.

On cross-examination, Gilmore said he had not read the legal briefs or orders related to the case.

After the presentation of all the witnesses, Garbis and Special Master Amy Totenberg dissected the different plans.

Garbis seemed to agree that the state's plan would give state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick "unilateral authority."

Still, he noted, "someone has to have authority."

"Your client has failed miserably," he said to the city's attorney.

For the second day, Garbis made unspecified references to officials involved in the case trying to "sabotage" efforts and lying under oath.

"You know there are people here who want to sabotage everything we do," he said.

"There are obstructionists," he added. "We're not going to give in to terrorists or obstructionists."

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