City school officials expect state to pay for special-education team

Copeland says 8-member group could cost $3 million annually


News from around the Baltimore region

August 30, 2005|By John Fritze | John Fritze,SUN STAFF

Baltimore school officials have told a federal judge they expect the state to pay for a new team tasked with fixing the city's special-education system, an expense they said will be more than originally projected.

City administrators also want state education leaders to develop a work plan that would include goals to measure the team's performance and determine when it is no longer needed, a motion filed in federal court Friday shows.

The motion comes after an Aug. 12 order by U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis created an eight-member management team to oversee instruction of the district's 15,000 special-education students. It is the latest development in a long battle over control of special education.

"It's really the state's remedy," said city schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland yesterday, suggesting that it should also be the state's cost.

Copeland said she believes the new team could cost up to $3 million annually, not $1.4 million as originally estimated. In the motion, city officials say the annual cost of the team could increase because it will need computers, space and staff.

"We've worked very hard to get our fiscal house in order," said school board Chairman Brian Morris. "This was not anticipated."

Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for Maryland's Department of Education, said the decision of who should pay for the new oversight team is for the judge to make.

"We're sure he's going to consider all the sides of this story and base his decision on the 21-year record of special education in Baltimore City," Reinhard said.

In his order, Garbis said state intervention is needed to stem a failure to provide disabled students with speech therapy, counseling and other services to which they are legally entitled.

A Carroll County assistant superintendent, Harry T. Fogle, was named to the management team last week. Most of the other members, Reinhard said, will be announced today.

City school officials, in their motion, said they want the new team to develop a work plan in the next 30 days that outlines goals and a schedule for returning control of special education to local officials.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who visited several schools as students returned yesterday for the first day back from summer break, said he agreed with the district's decision to file the motion.

"It'd be good to get some clarification," O'Malley said. "All of us want a more highly performing special-education system for our kids."

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