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School board wants to let principals choose texts Plan would give more authority to local schools and has strong support.


Baltimore school principals would have broad authority to pick the textbooks used in their schools, under a proposal presented by the city school board last night.

If approved, the plan would decentralize the way textbooks are chosen and ordered, in line with the administration's push to grant more authority to local schools.

The plan, which has the backing of the administration, teachers, principals and parents groups, would reverse the highly centralized system begun in the 1986-87 school year, after a decade of textbook supply problems.

Along with greater freedom to pick textbooks, principals also would decide how to allot the money each school receives for textbooks, materials, supplies, equipment and contractual services.

The proposal "is consistent with current efforts in restructuring and school-based management," said Philip H. Farfel, the school board member who introduced the plan.

School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey noted that textbooks are only one part of the instructional package.

"No curriculum should be built around the textbook," said Amprey. "We'd give them a variety of textbooks."

But board members, who would have to approve the textbook portion of the proposal, want several questions answered before they vote.

Among them: Who will be responsible for the choices principals make; whether a centralized system is more cost-efficient; and the question of timing, now that the school system is revising its curriculum.

"There are risks, no question about it," said Norman Walsh, the assistant administrator who outlined the plan. "The risks have to be balanced with the potential growth and improvement."

Even before this plan, the administration had taken steps to decentralize its textbook management system, which spends about $5 million on school books each year.

Before 1990-91 school year, the central administration was responsible for buying and stocking books for all schools around the city.

Last year, principals were allowed to order the books from a list of preapproved texts.

Under the new proposal, principals could approve virtually any texts they wanted, so long as those books "support the learning outcomes approved by the Board of School Commissioners."

The books must be in line with the school curriculum and be useful in boosting student performance, said Deputy Superintendent Patsy Baker Blackshear.

To help principals make their selections, a consultant is studying a wide selection of textbooks to see how well they match the current curriculum.

Board members generally praised the idea of giving local schools more flexibility, but raised a number of concerns about the textbook plan.

Meldon S. Hollis Jr. worried about the impact of such a major change while the school system is revising its curriculum.

He also noted that many students move from school to school, and said that could pose problems if schools are all using different textbooks.

Board President Joseph L. Smith warned that the public will have to be made aware of who bears the responsibility for choosing particular textbooks.

In other action, the board:

* Approved a $77.3 million, six-year capital improvement program that adds five new renovation projects. It includes work at Hamilton Elementary School, Hampstead Hill Middle School, Carter G. Woodson Elementary School, Northwood Elementary School and Sinclair Lane Elementary School. The plan still awaits approval by city's Board of Estimates.

* Accepted a $25,000 donation from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to fund hands-on science programs in the school system.

* Approved the appointment of Judson Wood, now principal of Northwood Elementary School, to the new position of ombudsman for the school system.

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