Michael Middleton calls poverty Baltimore's biggest enemy.

The $1.1 billion plan to overhaul the city's schools is fine, he told Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and new superintendent Gregory Thornton, but the economic issues facing families need to be addressed first.

The city's problems "won't be fixed by brick and mortar," the Cherry Hill Community Coalition representative said.

"That's where I disagree with you," the mayor replied, adding that even the city's poorest areas produce good students, who desperately need a place to succeed.

The exchange was one of many that focused on school facilities upgrades during the first of two education forums the city is holding as the back-to-school season begins. The forums are designed to open a dialogue between city residents and Thornton, who was hired from Milwaukee in February.

Cathy McClain, of the Cherry Hill Trust, wanted to know how schools will prepare students for smooth transitions into new buildings. Veronica Lloyd asked the schools CEO whether he has plans for school libraries that lack basic resources such as librarians and diverse collections of books. Another neighbor brought up the sorry state of some auditoriums. 

The superintendent acknowledged that money for such projects is limited and said he'll rely on "creative solutions," like looking to philanthropic foundations for help. He said he'd been in touch with area principals to address their problems.

When the schools begin the overhaul, which is being funded in part with state and city money, "we'll have to get the most possible out of our dollars and cents," Rawlings-Blake said.

Other questions touched on school curricula and Thornton's view of the proportion of charter schools to public schools.

"I don't care if they're public or private," he said. "I have a granddaughter, and if I wouldn't send my baby there, I need to get to work."

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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