Duncan says O'Malley hasn't done enough for schools

Montgomery County executive highly critical of what he describes as the mayor's misplaced priorities


Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan slammed what he called the misplaced priorities of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley yesterday, saying the mayor has not done enough to improve the city's schools.

"I have expressed grave concerns over the mayor's lack of interest in education ... not making education a priority for the city," Duncan said yesterday, answering reporters' questions after the release of the latest portion of his education platform. Duncan and O'Malley are running for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2006.

"I want education to be the top priority for the state of Maryland. It's been my top priority in Montgomery County, and with Mayor O'Malley's record, he has placed education last, as opposed to putting it first," Duncan said.

O'Malley brushed aside the criticism, saying city schools were making gains under his watch.

"I find it sad that he would say that given all the progress that our kids and parents and teachers have been making," the mayor said. "The fact of the matter is our school system is improving, and kids are raising their scores at a faster rate than the statewide average."

Duncan's remarks came a day after the state school board rejected Baltimore's plan for how to spend the additional money it is receiving under a landmark 2002 education funding initiative. The rejection of the plan was another black eye for the system, which has suffered from a $53 million deficit, school violence, lead in drinking water and legal rulings against how it teaches special-education pupils.

The two contenders for governor seem to agree on one point: Neither is eager to endorse state Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick, the longtime education leader who is an ally of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Asked whether Grasmick would be a valued part of their administrations, if elected, neither Duncan nor O'Malley offered support.

"We need to make improvements in our schools, and we need to make education the top priority for the state of Maryland, and I want people in the state who are going to produce that," Duncan said. Asked whether Grasmick has generated acceptable results in education, Duncan said "It's not the top priority today."

Asked about what role Grasmick would play if he were elected, O'Malley said: "I think we need to focus on results. ... We are going to put off transitional questions until the transition, if we are lucky enough to get there."

While it is a Cabinet-level position, the state schools superintendent is not appointed by the governor but receives a four-year contract from the 12-member state Board of Education. Board members are named by the governor to staggered four-year terms, so it would be years before a new governor could name a majority.

Grasmick did not return a telephone call for comment yesterday.

Duncan said yesterday that if elected governor, he would launch a program to better market prekindergarten programs to parents, and would make one-stop shopping centers for job training and other services for parents.

He also pledged to fully fund the education plan known as the Thornton program, saying that Ehrlich has not provided all the money the legislation calls for.

Duncan unveiled the proposal before speaking to a summit of the Coalition to End Lead Poisoning in Baltimore, where he called for all schools to test drinking water each year.

O'Malley also addressed the conference, saying that lead poisoning has contributed to the poor performance of many schoolchildren over the years. "So many young brains were capped and unable to meet their full potential," he said.


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