City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. unveiled yesterday the first part of his plan to improve the Baltimore school system, proposing to pay teachers who work in the toughest schools up to 15 percent more and demanding efficiency audits as he promised that education would be the issue to differentiate him from his main competitor in the mayoral race.
Appearing at Thurgood Marshall High School in Northeast Baltimore, Mitchell reiterated that the cornerstone of his education plan is to dissolve the current city-state partnership and return control of the school system to the mayor.
He attacked Mayor Sheila Dixon for "being happy with the status quo," taking a swipe at a budget proposal that he said would increase the city government's contribution to education spending by one-tenth of 1 percent, while the city's overall budget is increasing by 11 percent.
Dixon became mayor Jan. 17 when Martin O'Malley became governor, and she is running against Mitchell in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary for a full four-year term. A Dixon representative did not respond to repeated calls for comment.
"There's no bigger difference in the race for mayor than on education," said Mitchell in his first major campaign policy announcement. "Some people in this race are happy with the status quo. I believe we need a change."
"The interim mayor will talk about education -- I'll do something about it," he added. "The interim mayor will put out press releases and do photo-ops. I'm putting out a real plan to change our schools for the better."
Mitchell's plan calls for improving the budget process by making it more transparent and accountable, while bolstering teacher recruitment and retention.
To improve teacher recruitment, Mitchell is calling for partnering with organizations like Teach for America, and offering housing assistance and signing bonuses. His plan would pay those teachers working in the system's "toughest" schools up to 15 percent more.
To retain teachers, Mitchell would start a mentoring program, rewarding teachers who are mentors, and set up a leadership academy, where principals from high-performing schools lead seminars for new principals.
With regard to the budget process, Mitchell said if he were mayor and in control of the school system, he would "personally go over the budget line by line to be sure it's accurate," referring to this year's budget, which an examination by The Sun found to be riddled with errors.
He proposed instituting efficiency audits in every school to see how money is being spent, a practice he said was done in Virginia under former Gov. Mark Warner.
Outside auditors and management specialists would cut excess administrative spending and use those funds in the classroom, Mitchell said. "This will eliminate waste, find savings and restore confidence that taxpayer dollars are being wisely spent, not foolishly wasted," he said.
Mitchell said he will soon discuss the second part of his education plan, and other announcements will include plans on crime, economic development and housing.
"We wanted to make sure we got everything right," he said after the announcement. "We wanted to research our plan. We wanted an education plan that was vetted by education experts," he said, adding that former Baltimore City Schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland was among those consulted.
In this year's campaign for mayor, Dixon, Mitchell and city schools administrator Andrey Bundley have been among the most visible candidates. Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, Del. Jill P. Carter and Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr. also have said they are running or considering a run.