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Coalition seeks to influence school decisions


Charging that they've been excluded from city school system decisions, teachers, unions, clergy and civic groups formed a coalition yesterday to demand more say in policies and to fight school privatization.

Citizens for Accountability and Reform in Education (CARE) launched its effort at a news conference outside school headquarters on North Avenue. The group promised to make its presence felt at the ballot box, in mass rallies and meetings, at a weekend citywide "Education Summit" in September.

"We have been through a school year of frustration, pure frustration, and what we are doing at this point is coming together as a community to make parents and those others that are in the city realize that the schools belong to us," said Irene Dandridge, president of the 8,500-member teachers union.

A day after Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke raised Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's annual salary from $125,000 to $140,000, Ms. Dandridge, parents, clergy and teachers at the news conference denounced the move. They pointed out that Dr. Amprey's new four-year contract, pushed through the Board of Estimates by the mayor, came only a week after the schools chief sent 278 employees layoff notices as part of a school system shake-up.

"I don't know why he's getting this big raise when my daughter didn't have a science textbook," said Letty Herold, the parent of a 10th-grader at Patterson High.

Ms. Herold, Patterson's PTA president and a member of the new group, helped lead the fight against a plan to give control of the Patterson to a Maine boarding school whose unusual approach stresses discipline, character-building and parental involvement.

Amid overwhelming opposition from parents and teachers, Dr. Amprey dropped the plan last week, and the city is preparing a new one in hopes of averting state takeover of the troubled school.

Leaders of the group repeatedly criticized the school system's privatization venture, in which Education Alternatives Inc. took over operation of the nine "Tesseract" schools and has since taken on noninstructional services at three others.

Critics say the schools receive much more money than most others in the cash-strapped district, despite a lack of improvement in student performance. All schools, they argue, should receive at least as much as those run by the for-profit Minnesota company.

The group also pledged to push for more money from the state, improvements to school buildings, more parental involvement, and an effort to identify and expand successful reform efforts.

"We're not happy with the way things are going, and we believe part of that is our fault because we have . . . complained and groaned among ourselves," Ms. Dandridge said. "But we have not made it clear to the so-called powers-that-be that these are our schools, these are our children."

Nat Harrington, a school system spokesman, said Dr. Amprey welcomes the new group and is eager to work with its members. "He's supportive of this and says it's exactly what the community needs -- to bring everybody together," Mr. Harrington said.

The group includes the BTU; other city unions; the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a Protestant ecumenical group; Citizens United for the Renewal of East Baltimore; the Baptist Ministers Conference of Greater Baltimore and Vicinity, and numerous civic associations.

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