Fiscal problems prevent Baltimore from quickly expanding community policing, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke told a packed community meeting last night.
Mr. Schmoke's also told 462 delegates of Baltimoreans United for Leadership Development (BUILD), a citywide community group, that he would not agree to a moratorium on turning over additional public schools to for-profit firms. Tomorrow, the Board of Estimates is expected to approve a contract for a Minnesota-based firm to assume control of nine schools.
And the mayor said he does not want the community group to audit schools to check for shortages of textbooks and supplies without first consulting with school administrators.
The mayor said that his administration's relationship with BUILD -- a close partner during his first term in office -- is changing.
"We have different roles," Mr. Schmoke said after the meeting at St. Peter Claver Church in Upton. "We can't play the same role. We consult . . . but ultimately the responsibility for governing in this city is mine."
During the meeting, Mr. Schmoke came under close questioning over his administration's handling of community policing, public schools and his fundamental relationship with BUILD. And while Mr. Schmoke was respectful -- at one juncture reminding people that BUILD helped form his platform in the 1987 election -- he held firm, saying that he is faced with juggling meager resources to handle large and ever-growing problems.
But those explanations did not convince BUILD leaders.
"We reserve the right to demand what we think is important for this city," said the Rev. Robert R. Behnke, pastor of Nazareth Lutheran Church in Highlandtown and co-chair of BUILD.
Mr. Schmoke insisted, however, that BUILD should consider the city's fiscal problems when it makes demands. "I think you have to bemindful of the dilemma that this city is in in terms of finances," Mr. Schmoke said.
The mayor politely turned down BUILD on several fronts.
On community policing, he said he could not promise to establish five new community policing projects in the next six months. He said the city does not have the police manpower and that state budget cuts are threatening plans to expand the force by 123 officers this year.
He said he is committed to community policing, but that it will be expanded at a slower rate than BUILD envisions. The mayor agreed to meet with BUILD and Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods.
He said no new school takeovers by for-profit groups are on the horizon, although several non-profit groups and foundations have expressed interest in the idea. The mayor said his administration would consider new proposals as they come forward.
That also troubled some BUILD members.
"This is a dangerous road for us to take," said the Rev. William C. Calhoun Sr., pastor of Trinity Baptist Church and a BUILD member.
The mayor, however, said that he would consult BUILD if any new school-takeover proposals are made.
Mr. Schmoke said opposition to the school-takeover concept is the result of an "information gap."
"Some groups are not familiar with all the details, as are the parents of the students at the nine schools" to be run by a private firm beginning in September, he said. Despite the sharp questioning from BUILD, Mr. Schmoke said he expected to continue a good -- if changed -- relationship with the group.
"If BUILD wants to be the loyal opposition, I'm comfortable with that," he said.