Makeover details

September 01, 2005

STATE SCHOOLS superintendent Nancy Grasmick is still picking the managers who will perform the much-anticipated makeover of Baltimore's special education program. But city school officials have gone back to federal court, asking that the state spell out some details of its own plan -- specifically, how will city and state managers work together, what is the exit strategy and who is going to pay for the makeover?

Crucial to the state's makeover plan, including the placement of super-managers in eight separate departments that deal with special ed, is more focused oversight, more technical assistance, helping the city's special ed managers identify what's working and what's not and then implementing needed reforms. The state also envisions a three- to five-year timetable, with periodic progress reviews.

City school officials are asking for more specifics to help figure out how administrators will exercise authority on a day-to-day basis and whether individual departments might be released from state control once they are functioning properly.

But the key outstanding issue is how much this effort is really going to cost and where the money is coming from. State officials have estimated an annual tab of about $1.4 million -- mostly for the new managers' salaries and benefits -- and they insist that the money can be drawn from previously unspent federal special ed funds. City officials, anticipating that a number of consultants will be hired to provide the technical assistance promised by the state, want the court to stipulate that the state will assume ultimate financial responsibility.

If the city and state are to collaborate and cooperate more effectively in delivering services to special ed students, the common ground rules should be clear.

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