City board change urged

NAACP branch wants the majority of Baltimore school panel elected, criticizes leadership

April 25, 2006|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

The Baltimore branch of the NAACP called last night for the majority of the city school board to be elected rather than appointed, expressing its "displeasure with the current leadership" of the board.

And Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, president of the chapter, said that popular television talk show host Oprah Winfrey was "very much on point" when she said this month that 76 percent of black males in Baltimore drop out of high school.

Though school system officials say the dropout rate is far lower, Cheatham argued that "they're not showing us the real numbers. The numbers are atrocious."

His comments came as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter released a statement listing 10 changes that it wants to see in the city schools.

The changes include a halt to impending school closures, an increase in highly qualified teachers and a class-size cap of 20 students.

Asked whether the school board - which is appointed jointly by the mayor and the governor - should be elected or appointed, board Chairman Brian D. Morris said: "I don't have an opinion on that, honestly, other than the fact that I wouldn't run for the school board."

Otherwise, Morris added, he supports many of the NAACP's demands, including one for the city to fund the construction of at least one new school every year that it's paying to develop a new city-owned downtown hotel.

Board member George VanHook Sr., who attended the NAACP's general membership meeting last night, said having an elected school board would prevent people without money to campaign from serving.

"For me, the biggest concern is that our school board members be dedicated," he said. "Most of us are. ... I can only speak for myself. I try to go wherever people are talking about creating better opportunities for children."

While the NAACP did not support a state attempt to take over 11 failing city schools, the group's statement said, its members were also "very displeased" with legislation placing a one-year moratorium on the takeovers because it does nothing to fix the schools.

The NAACP is arguing that Mayor Martin O'Malley and the City Council should dedicate at least $400 million, or 20 percent, of the city's $2 billion operating budget to education. That's up from about $200 million proposed for the next fiscal year.

O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said the mayor's proposed budget includes $311 million that would go to schools and other programs that serve children. She said the state and federal governments dictate how the city spends another $1 billion.

The NAACP also wants to see more of the city's $61 million budget surplus spent on students, particularly on dropout prevention programs and programs to bring dropouts back to school.

It recommends that money be spent on a national NAACP program called Back to School/Stay In School.

More than half of the surplus is to be spent on students.

Cheatham said he is calling on schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland to give the NAACP access to city high schools to recruit students for its Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics.

He said Baltimore is one of the few cities in the country that isn't supporting the program, which is fully funded by the NAACP.

"Urban areas throughout the country are raving about this program," Cheatham said. "All we want is an inroad to the high schools."

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this article.

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