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State Takeover Of Baltimore Schools Mulled

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Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke are considering an arrangement that would increase the state's control over the city's public schools and boost state aid to the financially troubled district.

The tentative plan would replace Baltimore's superintendent and school board with a team of executives and a new board appointed by both city and state officials, Ronald A. Peiffer, an assistant state superintendent, said last week.

The discussions between the mayor, the governor, and state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick also call for the city to drop a potentially costly lawsuit challenging the state's school-funding system.

Though the plan faces substantial local opposition, it could end years of squabbling between the state and the district over funding and management of the 104,00-student school system and its $650 million budget.

"We could spend millions of dollars on lawyers instead of on students, and that's not what the mayor wants to do," Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for Mr. Schmoke, said last week.

State officials did not disclose how much additional money the city might receive under a cooperative arrangement with the state.

But some local education advocates and school board members said city officials would be unlikely to accept a plan that failed to close the spending gap of about $1,000 per pupil between the city and its more affluent suburbs. Baltimore spends about $5,000 per pupil, compared with some neighboring districts that spend, on average, close to $6,000, according to the state education department.

Linda Prudente, a spokeswoman for the 8,100-member Baltimore Teachers' Union, said teachers are also concerned that an agreement could mean a cut in their salaries and benefits. "If you look at the worst-case scenario, it could be very scary for teachers," she said.

The efforts by Gov. Glendening to win more control over the Baltimore schools mark the latest in a series of state-level interventions in big-city schools.

A Trade-Off

Since 1989, New Jersey has taken control of three faltering districts--Jersey City, Paterson, and Newark.

In Ohio, a federal judge last year ordered the state superintendent to take charge of the Cleveland public schools after budget difficulties and management problems had plunged the district into "a state of crisis." (See Education Week, March 15, 1995.)

And the Illinois legislature last year gave Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley broad authority over the city's schools, allowing him to appoint a management team and a new board to run the district. (See Education Week, June 21, 1995.)

What is unusual about Baltimore, experts said, is the fact that relief from protracted legal battles could be a major incentive for an agreement.

"The Baltimore situation is slightly different because it appears as an out-and-out trade--that is, power for legal relief and money," said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based group that represents large urban districts.

The city's school-funding lawsuit against the state is one of several that could end as a result of the ongoing negotiations, officials said last week.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the state on behalf of several Baltimore students, charging that the state does not provide enough money to deliver a "thorough and efficient" education.

And a Maryland disability-rights organization has been engaged in a decade-long suit against the city, charging that special-education students are not receiving services they are entitled to under state and federal laws.

Less Local Control?

Despite the support from the mayor's office, some Baltimore school officials argued last week that increased state involvement bucks a trend toward concentrating power at the school level.

"This proposal is top-down as opposed to a grassroots, community-generated one. It's exactly the opposite of where the country is moving," said Phillip Farfel, the Baltimore school board president.

However, both state and city officials stressed that any final agreement would be a partnership among the schools, the state, parents, local communities, unions, and business groups.

Mr. Coleman, the mayor's spokesman, cast the idea as the latest in a series of bold strategies to improve the city's schools.

In November, the city ended a closely watched experiment with Education Alternatives Inc. by terminating the Minneapolis-based company's five-year contract to run nine city schools after only three years. (See Education Week, Nov. 29, 1995.)

"We have long said that we need more resources in our schools," Mr. Coleman said. "I don't think anyone can argue with making changes that would benefit our children."

In other developments last week, state education officials said 35 Baltimore schools, whose students have performed poorly on state tests, must be overhauled or lose local control. That would bring to 40--more than a fourth of all city schools--the number of Baltimore schools under the state's reconstitution program, which requires school officials to completely reorganize schools.

Also, Baltimore Superintendent Walter G. Amprey announced a proposal to defer 10 days' pay for school employees until July as a way to reduce the district's $23 million deficit.

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