IT'S HARD TO tell what Gov. Parris N. Glendening really wants when it comes to Baltimore's schools. His efforts to push Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke toward a partnership that would end the city's lawsuit seeking more state funding have been clumsy at best. The governor's decision to retreat from an earlier threat to withhold funds from a dropout prevention program was correct. But by instead placing in escrow school construction funds that might not be spent until next spring anyway, he is guaranteeing no compromise will be reached before trial begins in November.
Mr. Glendening never should have chosen the dropout program as a victim. That would only make a bad situation worse. But he did so after he and Mr. Schmoke could not agree on a proposed state/city partnership to run Baltimore schools. Of course, the mayor says they did agree, in principle, but that Mr. Glendening got cold feet when it was revealed that the plan might also include additional funds for the schools via slot-machine gambling. Lacking a partnership pact by the July 28 deadline he set, Mr. Glendening felt he had to take action.
Whatever satisfaction he got was short-lived, however. Mr. Schmoke, Congressman Elijah Cummings and others at the Democratic National Convention pointed out to the governor that by withholding the $5.9 million in dropout prevention money he would impact more than 1,000 students and cost 70 people their jobs, 27 of them teachers. The legislature, in trying to punish the school system for not correcting its past management failures, targeted administrators' salaries. Before he changed his mind, the governor was going to hurt children.
Mr. Glendening's retreat should be a warning that all this maneuvering outside the courtroom, and what is likely to occur inside it, must be based on what is right for the children. Decisions about funding and accountability and punishment cannot be made in the abstract. They affect kids. It's not the governor, the mayor, or the city or state school superintendent, who has the most to lose. It's the boys and girls who are depending on adults to provide them with a decent public education.
Pub Date: 9/09/96