City schools chief acknowledges slip-up; Booker vows to improve next time snow, ice hit


The next time snow and ice make for a slippery commute in the Baltimore area, city schools chief Robert Booker says he will have more people observing weather conditions, consider delayed school openings and communicate better with parents and students through the system's cable channel.

At a public forum last night in the Hamilton Middle School gym attended by 200 parents and school staff members, Booker admitted that he "made a mistake" Thursday when he opened schools after snow, ice and freezing rain had closed every other metropolitan area school system.

He said he met yesterday morning with parents, administrators and teachers to devise ways to avoid the mistake.

"I made the decision last week based on conditions at about 5: 30 in the morning," Booker said. "But as the day went on, I regretted it."

He joked that his longtime residency in California made snow an unfamiliar issue for him. "This boy from California doesn't know much about snow," said Booker, who began working as schools chief in Baltimore last summer.

Booker said the school system will consider renegotiating its contract with the Mass Transit Authority, which transports thousands of city kids to school each day, to accommodate later starting times caused by snow.

He also said he will consider closing schools in certain areas of the city when road conditions vary from the east to west sides, as they often do.

"We'll get it right," Booker said.

Some parents and teachers, however, remained miffed at the schools chief and were skeptical that things would get better.

"Actions speak louder than words," said Shawn McKay, who has four children in city schools. "Schools should definitely have been closed Thursday, and until I see schools closed on days when they should be closed, then what he says is just talk."

McKay said her children had a hard time getting to school Thursday, and she had a problem getting to Northeast Middle School, where she works as a volunteer.

"Some of the streets were OK, but others weren't," McKay said. "And the areas around the schools weren't shoveled at all. One of the other volunteer teachers slipped right outside the school door."

Helen Barnes, who is a counselor at a city school, wondered what effect the snow and ice had on attendance rates Thursday.

"They keep saying they want achievement to be better in our schools, but how can you have achievement without good attendance?" she asked. "No one is talking about how many children missed school and missed work because school was open that day."

Deliscia Casey-Pack, who has two children in city schools, said she's from California, too, and understands why Booker made the decision to open schools.

"The first time you see the snow and ice, you don't know," Casey-Pack said. "I had to learn the hard way, too, by falling down. So I forgive him. Next time, I think they'll get it right."

Pub Date: 1/20/99

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