Threatening legal action against the state, Baltimore's school board hired outside legal counsel this week to negotiate with the governor for more money for the city's school reform effort.
If the negotiations fail, the board says, it will go to court immediately -- reopening a case that was settled several years ago with a consent decree that created a city-state partnership to run the schools.
The school board hired Wilbur D. Preston Jr., a partner in Whiteford, Taylor and Preston, to represent the board in its negotiations. Preston declined to comment, but he represented the city in the original case that led to the partnership.
By giving up some control over its schools, the city received $254 million more in aid during five years and the promise that the school board could return to the state halfway through the reform efforts to seek more money. If the reforms appeared to be working, the state would have to honor the request or face going back to court.
The school board asked Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the legislature for $49 million more for the next school year, saying it needed the money to recruit teachers, provide summer school and remedial programs for failing students, and offer full-day kindergarten.
The state contends that it has given the city schools $30 million more for next year, as well as $50 million that was promised in the original agreement. But the school board disputes that figure, saying it is only $8 million more than it would have received anyway.
Schools chief Robert Booker said he met with state officials earlier in the week to try to resolve their disagreements and come to an understanding about how much money the schools would get next year from the state. Booker stopped the school board from approving its 2001 budget this week because he said the amount of state aid was not definite.
"I would like to have, as best we can determine, the exact number of dollars. We are getting closer," Booker said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland said Wednesday it would join in the suit if the school board takes the case back to court. "We don't believe the state came anywhere close to funding the full request," said Bebe Verdery, education director of the ACLU of Maryland. The ACLU was one of the parties in the original case.