Exasperated school board member quits, citing City Hall interference


Frustrated by what he sees as meddling from City Hall, Baltimore school board member John S. Ward has quit, just one year after he joined the board to fill out the term of a former member.

Mr. Ward, a retired educator, resigned effective last Friday, despite a plea from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke that he reconsider. His term was due to expire at the end of this year.

Mr. Ward joined the board last January, after serving 13 years as an administrator in Baltimore County and 20 years as a teacher, principal and administrator in the city.

He also served as part of a consulting team picked by Superintendent Walter G. Amprey to analyze the school administration, after the superintendent was hired in 1991.

Mr. Ward's resignation comes at a time of increasing debate about the nine-member panel, which is appointed by the mayor. A bill introduced to the City Council on Monday by Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, would make the board an all-elected body.

"My increasing disenchantment with the intrusive political climate and its negative impact on long-range educational planning has made a difficult assignment impossible," Mr. Ward wrote in a Jan. 4 resignation letter to the mayor.

He added that he has been "deeply disappointed with the realities that surround decision making in public education in Baltimore City."

Yesterday, Mr. Ward cited the recent furor over a comprehensive schoolwide rezoning plan, saying the board's leadership failed to stand firm in the face of public opposition.

"I've been unhappy with the largely ceremonial role of the board for some time," said Mr. Ward. "The undermining of the comprehensive rezoning proposal was the straw that broke the camel's back."

The plan proposed last month would have closed nine schools and shifted the boundaries of dozens of others. Initially, it also would have eliminated the city's popular K-8 schools. But public support for the K-8 schools proved so strong that the mayor and school board President Phillip H. Farfel have since said the schools are likely to remain open.

For Mr. Ward, the failure to carry through with a full debate on the K-8 plan was just the latest illustration of the board's powerlessness.

In the past year, he said, the board repeatedly has failed to protect school staff from "micromanagement" by the public and by other city institutions and interest groups.

"If the teachers union wants to appeal some opinion of the staff, they don't come to the board, they go straight to the mayor's office," he said. "Our president does what the mayor wants him to do."

Mr. Ward also voiced frustration at the failure of the mayor and the board to win a significant increase in state education funding, noting that a long-threatened lawsuit on equitable funding has yet to be filed.

"I guess I've just about had it," he said. "I'm tired of these bromides being tossed to citizens, and real problems being swept under the rug."

But others involved in the city's educational establishment rejected Mr. Ward's arguments.

"I don't share his pessimism," said Dr. Farfel, board president. The mayor and City Council simply share a strong interest in education, he said.

"Rather than look at it as political interference, I would choose to look at it as active community involvement," he said.

Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for the mayor, said Mr. Schmoke put no pressure on the board about the K-8 plan or other matters. But he noted that the mayor "has made it clear that he intends to take an active role in education. I believe the citizens want that."

Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, who heads the council's education committee, said the board is independent to the point of sometimes shutting out the public.

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