Gov. Parris N. Glendening promised yesterday to find more money for Baltimore schools if a city-state partnership can be forged to improve management and student achievement.
Mr. Glendening's commitment was seen as an important step toward achieving an agreement between Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke nTC and state school officials, who are negotiating to settle several lawsuits.
It was the first time Mr. Glendening had taken a direct role in the talks.
"I think we're looking for a multiyear, future-year arrangement" encompassing management changes and more money for city schools, Mr. Glendening said in Annapolis after a private meeting with the mayor and Christopher Cross, president of the state school board.
Mr. Glendening said the key questions remaining are how much money there would be, where it would come from, when it would be most needed in restructuring school government and what strings might be attached to ensure it is well spent.
Participants in the meeting, which included several other officials, declined to discuss any proposed settlement figures.
Mr. Glendening pressed the officials to focus their efforts on the legal, political and financial issues that would complicate any possible compromise.
"We've got a long way to go in a short amount of time," Mr. Glendening said, referring to the General Assembly's current budget season. "The bottom line is we need a new partnership based on collaboration. It's going to cost a lot of money, and it's got to constitute dramatic change."
Although he did not endorse any specific partnership proposal or concept, he encouraged state school leaders and city officials to keep "collaborating."
The most recent proposal would create a city-state partnership to run the schools, with executives to manage curriculum, finances and staff, and with a jointly appointed governing board.
Put to Mr. Schmoke late last year by Mr. Cross and Nancy S. Grasmick, the state school superintendent, it would eliminate the school board and the superintendent's job.
Officials familiar with yesterday's meeting said that proposal was not discussed and that many of its elements remain in dispute. Nevertheless, some who recently characterized as tenuous the possibility of such a settlement said yesterday that the governor's meeting was a signal to negotiators to go forward.
"He talked about his desire to see better relations between the state and the city on education issues," Mr. Schmoke said after the meeting. "He sees an opening, or an opportunity for resolving the litigation."
Mr. Glendening's involvement at this stage is far more than symbolic, say officials who have followed the negotiations since they began in fits and starts last spring. The governor holds the purse strings and has the political muscle to ease the anticipated opposition from competing jurisdictions worried that Baltimore's gain would mean their loss.
The governor mentioned wealthier Montgomery and Howard counties, which have pressing school construction needs, saying they, too, must be considered as the settlement talks veer into touchy money issues.
He called on state and city officials to carry word of their progress and settlement ideas to the lawyers representing other parties involved in the legal cases, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Maryland Disability Law Center.
Until now, the small circle working toward settlement has been limited to top Maryland and Baltimore officials and their aides. Winning support from the other parties would be a key to settling the cases, including the city's suit seeking an increase in school aid, the state's countersuit alleging mismanagement at school headquarters and a 10-year-old federal case over the rights of disabled students.
Praising the mayor for risking political fire from constituents, Mr. Glendening tied the state's economic health and the welfare of the city to improving Baltimore's schools.
"Every person in the room knows we have to have dramatic change," Mr. Glendening said. "Every person in the room also knows it's going to be expensive and that you can't solve all the issues of money without also solving the issues of management and producing outcomes in the best interests of the children of Baltimore. They go hand in hand."