COMPLAINTS ABOUT the 21 people chosen as finalists for the new Baltimore City Board of Education may be heartfelt, but they are also wrong.

Critics are not acknowledging that the criteria for finalists were set by court order to settle long-standing lawsuits against the city school system.

There is little wiggle room to appoint either a specific board member the mayor might want or to choose someone whom community activists could call one of their own.

The settlement was agreed to last November, then ratified by the Maryland General Assembly this month. The pact recognizes three stark realities: City schools poorly educate children; the schools are inadequately funded and positive change cannot occur under the current school system leadership. The state legislature has agreed to give city schools an additional $254 million over the next five years. Baltimore has agreed to a reconstituted school board, superintendent and management structure.

Under the court settlement and the new state law, Baltimore's education board will consist of nine city residents who, to the extent possible, reflect the fact that Baltimore is 60 percent African-American. Four board members must have a background in administrative leadership; three must have education expertise; one must have in-depth knowledge of special education issues, and at least one must be a parent of a city student. The board also will have a non-voting student member.

It is clear that this won't be your typical citizen school board. This panel is being put together to deal with the specific issues imperiling Baltimore schools. Its members are expected to bring not only expertise from their professional and civic backgrounds to this difficult task, but they are expected to have shown in other endeavors the drive, dedication, intuitiveness and courage to do the job right -- regardless of the obstacles.

This settlement requires appointment of an advisory board of parents and community leaders who can make sure the new board doesn't lose sight of the people its decisions will impact most. In forwarding its list of 21 candidates to the governor and mayor, the state school board did an outstanding job. The record of personal achievement of these individuals illustrates the kinds of characteristics they will seek in a new superintendent. Finding the best possible educator must be the revamped city school board's top priority.

Pub Date: 4/23/97

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