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Mitchell unveils school proposals

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore City Councilman and mayoral candidate Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. yesterday floated proposals to expand the school year and make it easier to establish charter schools. But some of his ideas, such as reducing school size, are initiatives that have already taken place or are under way.

Mitchell, who is running in this year's Democratic primary for mayor, rolled out the second part of his education platform at a town hall forum at the Patterson Park branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The cornerstone of Mitchell's plan is to return full control of the school system to the city, dissolving the arrangement in which city and state officials jointly appoint members of the school board.

Mitchell, a former teacher, expanded on that platform yesterday, proposing a public-private charter school incubator to provide support to charter schools, and establishing an independent board to make it easier for charter schools to form. Currently, charter schools are granted charters from the school board.

"This is a plan that's not about the status quo. It's a plan that's different," said Mitchell, who will travel to New York City today to meet with education officials there. "It's a plan I believe will work as we move our city forward."

Mitchell said he would form a school safety task force, crack down on truancy and give principals more power in suspending violent and disruptive students if elected. Some of Mitchell's ideas, such as reducing school size and conducting "school effectiveness audits," are practices already in place. The school system also already has a safety task force in place.

"It sounds like a lot of this is already done or in the process of being done," said Marietta English, co-president of the Baltimore Teachers Union. "No Child Left Behind did a lot of this. And we've already developed small learning communities in our high schools."

All but three of the city's neighborhood high schools have been broken up and several new schools serving pre-kindergarten through eighth grade have been created, for a total of more than 30. English said Mitchell's call for effectiveness audits, which would restructure or close low-performing schools, is similar to what is required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

English also questioned the cost of expanding the school year. Mitchell said the city should explore adding 10 percent to 20 percent more days. "How would he pay for that?" she said. "That would cost money, and right now where would he get money for that?"

Mitchell's plan also calls for training community volunteers to become "citizen teachers" after the normal school day and working with city businesses and foundations to sponsor recreation centers.

Several weeks ago Mitchell unveiled the first half of his education platform, which called for demanding efficiency audits in every school, making the budget process more transparent and bolstering teacher recruitment and retention.

Mitchell is running to unseat Mayor Sheila Dixon, who became mayor Jan. 17 when Martin O'Malley was sworn in as governor. The Democratic primary is Sept. 11 and the general election is Nov. 6. Other candidates who have said they are running or are considering a run include: city schools administrator Andrey Bundley, Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, Del. Jill P. Carter, Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr. and socialist A. Robert Kaufman.

Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Dixon - who was also a teacher - said the mayor intends to play an active role in choosing a new schools CEO.

"Education continues to be a very important issue for Mayor Dixon, and she appreciates that there are a lot of good ideas on the table but the most important idea and the most important ingredient for success is parental involvement and quality schools," McCarthy said.

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