Balto. Co. board opposes proposal for charter schools


The Baltimore County Board of Education apparently has become the first school board in Maryland to formally oppose Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's bill to make it easier to start charter schools.

Board members voted unanimously Tuesday night in favor of a resolution opposing the governor's proposal for nonsectarian, tuition-free charter schools.

"I see this as being detrimental - this whole charter and choice movement - to public education," said Warren C. Hayman, a board member.

Ehrlich proposed last week bringing Maryland in line with 39 other states that allow universities, the state school board and other institutions to create charter schools, which are funded by school systems but run independently of them.

In Maryland, only local boards of education can establish charter schools, but they have been reluctant to do so.

Only one has opened - the Monocacy Valley Montessori School in Frederick County.

Hayman said he is worried that charter schools would sap funds from school system budgets and some of the best students from public schools.

He expressed concern that parents would choose to send their children to charter schools without the proper understanding of what they were doing.

A few board members criticized a provision in Ehrlich's bill that would allow uncertified teachers to work in charter schools.

And they attacked a provision that would allow charter school teachers to form a union, but not join any existing bargaining unit.

"It's very detrimental to the profession of teacher," said James R. Sasiadek, the board's vice president, who is a principal in Baltimore.

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor, dismissed funding concerns, saying Ehrlich is committed to fully funding school systems, but also wants to make sure students' needs are met.

Ehrlich has pushed his bill as a way to rescue low-income students from poorly performing schools.

It also would open up to charter schools hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds and private grants.

The state school board endorsed the concept of charter schools last spring.

"We think the option is good to allow Maryland schools to compete for more than $200 million in funds" from the federal government, William R. Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said yesterday.

Since Minnesota enacted the first charter school law in 1991, 2,700 charter schools have been established nationwide, serving 685,000 students.

The Maryland Association of Boards of Education, which represents the 24 school systems in the state, had voiced opposition to the governor's bill, arguing that it gives local boards little control over the financial and academic performances of charter schools.

John R. Woolums, MABE's director of governmental relations, said that it appears Baltimore County's school board is the first to pass a resolution opposing Ehrlich's bill and that he expects more local boards to follow suit.

Joni Gardner, president of the Maryland Charter School Network, an advocacy group, said she was disappointed by the Baltimore County school board's vote, but not surprised.

"I would like to see the education of children be first for all organizations, not behind other agendas," she said.

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