O'Malley derides Ehrlich's handling of education

October 23, 2005|By ANDREW A. GREEN | ANDREW A. GREEN,SUN REPORTER

Education kept center stage in the governor's race yesterday as Mayor Martin O'Malley called the Ehrlich administration's handling of the Baltimore schools budget crisis a public relations exercise and derided its proposals for education reforms as a "laundry list of rhetoric" while offering his own plans for improving teacher recruitment and retention.

The mayor unveiled proposals to boost pension benefits for teachers, increase school construction spending and enhance college loan repayment programs for educators.

But he also sought to draw a sharp contrast between himself and the man he seeks to unseat, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., saying the governor's actions last year when city schools faced a $58 million deficit show the hollowness of his leadership.

"In Annapolis, we saw press conferences. We had televised meetings. We heard rhetoric about how the problem couldn't be solved unless there was a state takeover. And it was all was just cover for a plan to tear up teacher contracts and cut teachers' pay, to make our most important public servants pay the price for others' mistakes," O'Malley said.

O'Malley's remarks at a meeting of the Maryland State Teachers' Association in Ocean City came two days after the mayor's rival in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, made education the central theme of his campaign announcement speeches, offering promises to lower college tuition and get more volunteers in the schools.

Ehrlich addressed some of the same issues this fall through the Governor's Commission on Quality Education, headed by Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, which called for a series of education reforms, including merit pay for teachers, pension reform and alternative teacher certification.

"Throughout the city schools crisis and the Steele commission, the one concern of the governor has been 90,000 city school kids that need a better education," Ehrlich spokesman Greg Massoni said yesterday.

Ehrlich has often tangled with the MSTA, the state teachers union.

Yesterday, Duncan said the city schools battle between the governor and mayor made many voters realize they need a third choice in the governor's race.

"It was a king-of-the-hill battle. They weren't focused on helping the children. They were focused on making each other look bad," Duncan said. "After that, there were a lot of people in the Baltimore region who said they need an alternative."

O'Malley also criticized the Steele commission, saying it met behind closed doors and produced "a disjointed laundry list of rhetoric rather than a plan."

On that point, O'Malley and Duncan concur. "My superintendent said it wasn't worth the paper it is printed on," Duncan said. "I agree with him."

andy.green@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Jennifer Skalka contributed to this article.

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