Concern over Md. role in schools

City Council a vote short of asking state lawmakers to dissolve city-state education tie

August 15, 2006|By DOUG DONOVAN | DOUG DONOVAN,SUN REPORTER

A majority of Baltimore's City Council expressed strong disapproval last night of the city-state partnership that governs public schools and gave tentative support for restoring local control over the education system.

The 15-member council fell a vote short of the 12 it needed to suspend the rules to immediately adopt a resolution asking Baltimore's state lawmakers to dissolve the nine-year-old partnership during next year's legislative session in Annapolis.

Instead, the all-Democrat council assigned the measure to a committee that most likely will not act on it until after the Sept. 12 Democratic primary election, a move that some say allows General Assembly candidates to avoid the question in the campaign.

Council Vice President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, whose abstention from voting helped sink immediate adoption, said after the meeting that the council should hold hearings before deciding.

"Something so serious deserves consideration," said Rawlings-Blake, who chaired last night's meeting and gave council members plenty of time to get the votes they needed. "It would make sense to send a message to the legislature after consideration."

Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., the resolution's author, said the council lost an opportunity to force candidates running in the primary to focus on local control.

In 1997, city and state leaders agreed that Baltimore's schools needed combined funding and governance to improve the perpetually failing system. The governor and mayor jointly appoint the school board that governs the city school system, which has shown improvement but is still the state's worst-performing.

Mitchell said he believes that Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. - whose fights over city schools have become a major campaign issue in the governor's race - were conceptually supportive of restoring local control. O'Malley administration officials said they were open to considering the resolution. Ehrlich officials had no comment yesterday.

"Now we go back to talk about it in committee," Mitchell said.

Leaders of the Baltimore Teachers Union, which represents about 6,000 city educators, showed up last night to support Mitchell and were upset that the council did not immediately support local control.

Ten council members joined Mitchell. Council President Sheila Dixon was absent, Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. voted against the resolution, and two council members passed - Rawlings-Blake and Kenneth N. Harris Sr.

"We'd prefer for the school system to be under city control," said Marietta English, president of the teachers union. "We would have went to candidates who are running for [state office] and asked them, `What will you do to make this happen?'"

Mitchell's resolution calls for asking the city delegation to the state General Assembly to introduce legislation in the 2007 session to dissolve the partnership.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke voiced frustrations that elicited applause when she accused the school board of ignoring parents.

"We need our schools back," Clarke said. "Let's move it forward."

Harris and Councilwoman Helen L. Holton joined Rawlings-Blake in cautioning against moving too quickly. Harris said discussion was warranted to iron out details about local control and to answer questions about the education "czar" that the resolution recommends.

Although Holton voted in favor of immediately adopting the resolution, she said she would prefer hearings.

"A hearing would allow the citizens to weigh in," Holton said.

D'Adamo said he voted against the measure because the schools need all the help they can get and that his colleagues were playing politics by suggesting otherwise.

"People I talk to want the state to come in and take over all of the schools," D'Adamo said.

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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