City schools reluctant to join Schmoke's pilot restructuring program


At least six of 27 Baltimore schools initially interested in a plan to give individual schools more control have dropped out of the application process for the pilot program, which is the core of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's prescription for the city's ailing and financially deprived schools.

The reasons: tight deadlines, the challenges inherent in joining the so-called restructuring program, and a climate of uncertainty created by tough new state standards and a school superintendency that is in flux, according to those involved with the program.

"We're asking schools to pull together teams and work together in a way that very few schools have ever worked together, to develop a consensus for change in a very tight time frame -- and on top of everything else, we're doing it in an environment in which there is apprehension and a situation of unknowing," said Jerry Baum, a member of the school system's Advisory Committee to Support Restructuring.

The three-year experiment, proposed two years ago by the Baltimore Teachers Union and seen as central to Mayor Schmoke's efforts to revitalize the school system, is intended to make schools more independent of the central bureaucracy. Participating schools would receive up to $15,000 to carry out specific educational improvement plans and would be run by committees of parents, community members, teachers and administrators.

Mr. Baum, who heads the non-profit Fund For Educational Excellence, said that by the time the program starts this September, there may well be fewer than the 20 schools planned.

A total of 27 schools filed letters of intent to file applications Dec. 18, just two months after the school board adopted a revised restructuring program. Five have since rescinded those notices and others have decided against submitting final applications, which are due Friday. About 19 attended follow-up workshops in January, Mr. Baum said.

But committee members said smaller numbers should not hurt the pilot program.

"My opinion is that if we end up with 10 very good, strong programs, we probably will be better off than if we have 20," said Irene Dandridge, president of the BTU.

The proposed fiscal 1992 school budget calls for $600,000 to pay for restructuring 20 schools -- down from the $750,000 originally envisioned.

Mr. Baum said initial expectations that the school system would have more applications than available slots may have been unrealistic. "I will be very impressed and very surprised if the 19 schools who completed the training are all able to complete their applications," he said.

At Margaret Brent Elementary School, teachers voted against entering the pilot because it would be too demanding.

"After we found out how much was involved, they decided against it," said Principal Lauretta R. Walden. "It just seemed, I think, overwhelming. . . . They felt they would rather wait and see how it goes with someone else."

Ann Brooks, principal at Moravia Park Primary School, said her school's teachers liked the idea but decided against it. "They decided they would try some things on an informal basis," she said. "They wanted to study it a little further."

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