Saturday Mailbox


April 15, 2006

School takeover an abuse of power

The recent attempt by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to seize control of 11 Baltimore schools is unfortunate ("With state plans at bay, city acts to save schools," April 12).

The threat by the U.S. Department of Education to withhold funds from our city's schools is regrettable.

More than anything else, these actions reveal the disconnection between those who work in Baltimore's public schools and the state officials charged with administering those schools.

This dispute has provided an opportunity to witness both the arrogance of power and the power of a community's convictions.

As The Sun pointed out in its editorial "Fundamentally wrong" (March 30), the attempt to seize control of the Baltimore schools was undertaken without consultation with city school officials, state legislators, parents or the public.

Ms. Grasmick believed that she could, by fiat, change the governance of several city schools. This was a display of unbridled arrogance and a wanton exercise of power.

And her attempt to enlist the federal Department of Education to issue a thinly veiled threat to Maryland legislators - the threat that $171 million in Title I funds would be withheld from schools - was a blatant attempt to use political muscle.

Perhaps Ms. Grasmick believes her position makes the opinion of the legislature irrelevant, that the schools are her domain, to govern as she prefers.

If Ms. Grasmick believes such things, she is wrong.

The schools belong to us - to the teachers, paraprofessionals, families and students of Baltimore.

Yes, our schools have problems, but we insist that we be involved in forming the solutions.

The transfer of our schools to the control of third-party administrators is not what we want, especially since such institutions have yet to prove that they are capable of improving student performance or providing a more effective method of instruction.

It was heartening to see our legislators in Annapolis move so quickly to prevent the school takeover and to express in law what they knew to be the people's will.

And when state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. announced that the legislators' actions were constitutional and did not violate federal law, "right" was shown to be more powerful than Ms. Grasmick's political might.

This struggle is not over. There still is much to do.

When we've finished battling the state Education Department and its superintendent, we must turn our attention to the real fight - improving our schools.

I believe, however, that if we display the courage and conviction that citizens and legislators have shown recently, victory will be ours.

Marietta English


The writer is president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.

Kids still the losers in schools dispute

Now that the state Senate has overridden the veto of the bill blocking Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's Jr. takeover of some city schools, the politicians from the state and city can claim victory or defeat ("Veto killed, takeover of schools halted," April 11).

But who are the real winners and losers?

I am sure that the city school system believes it has won - won the right to try to fix the schools and a system that has been broken for more years than I can remember.

The mayor can claim victory over an overreaching state government and show, once again, that he is the man in control.

And after the one-year moratorium on the state takeover has ended, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and the governor may claim that they won - because another year will have passed, and who really believes that the city public school system will fix in one year what it has been unable to fix in 10?

With all of these people claiming victory, is it any wonder that, yet again, it is the students in Baltimore's schools who are the only clear losers?

As a teacher in a successful school, a parent of three children - two of whom are in city public schools - and a city resident, I am not sure the state board could fix what needs fixing at the 11 schools slated for takeover.

But I am sure that the city system has not been able and will not be able to fix them.

My question to all of those who spent their energy fighting to see who gets to control these schools is simple - would you send your children to these schools?

Doug Fireside


The writer is an academic coach at New Song Academy.

Immigration system isn't fair or rational

Perhaps one of the politicians in the immigration reform debate could help me understand why the proposed reforms would seem to do nothing to address the inequalities within the bureaucratic mess that is the U.S. immigration system ("Marching for immigrant rights," April 11).

According to the latest reports, those who have been here illegally for five years may be permitted to stay in this country.

Good for them. They will no longer have to live a life of fear and exploitation, which is no way for any human being to live.

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