City school board to keep mum on Amprey agenda Members request time to discuss plan


Walter G. Amprey, Baltimore's new school superintendent, handed the city school board an outline of his goals for the system at a meeting of the board yesterday but was persuaded by board members not to make the document public.

During a break in the meeting, the 46-year-old Dr. Amprey said that he was willing to release a copy of his goals but deferred to the board president and members, who kept it confidential.

"It's in a very preliminary stage. We have to have discussion on it, and if it's in good shape we'll release it to the general public" within several weeks, said school board President Joseph Lee Smith.

Meldon Hollis, a board member, said that if Dr. Amprey's objectives were released before they were final, public opinion and politics would hamper free discussion by the board.

Dr. Amprey was picked by the board to be superintendent on June 28. So far, his only public statement about plans to improve student performance were made in broad philosophical terms on Sept. 19 to guests at an NAACP banquet.

The board met yesterday for a breakfast meeting at school headquarters on North Avenue. It had planned to meet behind closed doors until objections were raised by The Sun, which cited state sunshine laws prohibiting such closed meetings of public officials.

The board then agreed to allow the public to be present for about half of the meeting, but closed it to reporters when employee personnel issues -- including Dr. Amprey's intention to cut the bureaucracy at North Avenue -- were addressed.

During the open part of the meeting, the board spent most of its time addressing the restructuring and decentralization of schools in keeping with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's long-standing proposal to make individual schools more independent of administrative red tape.

A pilot program for decentralization is in place at 14 city schools.

Much of yesterday's discussion centered on how much freedom the administration would allow those 14 schools with regard to the $35,000 allotted to each for innovations.

"When you decentralize you create more work; decentralization has a cost," said Mr. Hollis.

"What happens if it becomes clear to everybody that [a school] has a good proposal but no leadership to carry it off? What happens if a school goes spinning off? We have to speak to the limit of decentralization."

To this Mr. Smith replied that the principals "think we gave them almost carte blanche to improve the schools any way they want. That is the limit. . . . If we're going to squabble about how we let them spend $35,000, what are we going to do when it's a million and a half [dollars] somewhere down the line? They say, 'I want you to let us alone. Give me the stuff and come back and look at us three years down the road and don't bother me in between. Any principal worth their salt will want a lot of decision making power without us looking over their shoulders."

The board also discussed priorities for the upcoming General Assembly. Privately, members talked about Dr. Amprey's plan to cut bureaucracy at North Avenue and how they intend to evaluate Dr. Amprey.

"When we decide how Dr. Amprey will be evaluated, we will make that public," Mr. Smith said.

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