Candidates fail to offer clear education plans; Democrats: The leading mayoral candidates' school platforms appear unfocused and lacking in detail.


TWELVE YEARS AGO this Dec. 8, Kurt L. Schmoke made education the theme of his inauguration as Baltimore's 46th mayor. Some teachers and parents wept for joy.

He said he wanted to be known as the "education mayor," the chief executive of the "city that reads." A decade later, Schmoke admitted that the system was "dysfunctioning," and two years after that, the lame-duck mayor finds himself having ceded part of his authority to a city-state "partnership" that amounts to a partial state takeover.

Have the men who are leading in the race to succeed Schmoke learned anything from the mayor's experience? Not much, considering their education positions as described in their literature and discussed in their first televised debate. (Last night's debate on WMAR occurred too late to be covered in this column.)

The candidates' education platforms seem extraordinarily unfocused and lacking in detail. The candidates squabble over reducing class size, for example, with vague ideas of how they're going to pay for it.

It's easy to sign on to agendas when you have a make-believe checkbook. But with a $153 million city budget deficit projected for the next five years, a real checkbook will be required, with real money in the bank.

All three major candidates signed on to the agenda of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development. BUILD's agenda urges $21 million for the return of full-time librarians and full-time art, music and physical education teachers to the city's schools. BUILD says $6 million can come from paring the North Avenue administrative staff, and the remaining $15 million from other areas of the city budget.

Now that the three candidates have signed on, do they have the backbone to carry out the commitment? Which of them would follow the example of Prince George's County, whose new superintendent, with the blessing of the county executive, has eliminated 150 administrative positions?

Except for minor candidate A. Robert Kaufman's proposal to scrap the school board in favor of an elected panel that reflects the views of the schools' constituencies, little in these platforms is imaginative. For example, the candidates would reduce class size and provide more after-school, pre-school and teacher mentoring programs.

Carl Stokes and Martin O'Malley appear to be on opposite sides when Stokes says he'd abandon "privatization," and O'Malley calls for more "alternative" programs. Stokes is proud that he helped throw out the privatization rascals, Education Alternatives Inc. But what's left to throw out? Sylvan Learning System's tutoring centers in the city's poorest schools? The eraser and crayon supply contracts? These, too, are part of privatization.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III walks on the thinnest of ice when he proposes scrapping the nascent city-state arrangement. While it's true that the partnership has reduced the mayor's authority, it also has brought $254 million in state money over five years, the beginning of order in the school system's disastrous special education program and the elevation of city teachers' salaries to respectability.

For the first time in a decade, children have new reading and math textbooks citywide, and last year Baltimore spent more on each pupil ($6,924) than Baltimore County ($6,918) and the state average ($6,821). And now Bell, who has few Annapolis connections and no experience in the state capital, wants to go solo again? While we're at it, why not take back the jail, the community college and mass transit?

Dubel recommends Pullen as Md. educator of century

Robert Y. Dubel, retired Baltimore County superintendent and a school historian, recommends Thomas G. Pullen as Maryland educator of the century.

The late Pullen, who started his career as a Latin teacher in Virginia, was Maryland schools superintendent from 1942 to 1964. "I don't believe he ever made a decision or appointment based on political considerations," writes Dubel, who served 16 years as Baltimore County schools chief. "He especially enjoyed speaking in Latin or quoting Thomas Jefferson."

My nominee this week is another classicist, Edith Hamilton. Headmistress of Bryn Mawr School for 26 years, she retired at 55 and spent the next 40 years lecturing and writing. She became a famous authority on Greek culture.

Nominations remain open.

Yes, Johnny can read, but only 'TV Guide'

The math teacher saw that little Johnny wasn't paying attention in class. She called on him and said, "Johnny, what are 2 and 4 and 28 and 44?" Little Johnny quickly replied, "NBC, CBS, HBO and the Cartoon Network."

Pub Date: 9/08/99

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