Readers Respond

Mayoral control won't improve city schools

While I agree with many of the points made by Kurt Schmoke, Matt Gallagher and Tom Wilcox in "Who is accountable for Baltimore schools?" (May 9), the recommendation that the city schools CEO report to the mayor is wrong-headed.

Just as Maryland requires its secretary of education to report to the state board of education, the city schools CEO should report to Board of School Commissioners. Mayoral control would undercut the authority of the school board and obfuscate its role and responsibilities.


Equally important, it would weaken the city's ability to attract top-flight candidates for the school CEO, who generally value the ability to implement their vision unimpeded by larger political dynamics.

School districts benefit from continuity in leadership, as Baltimore experienced with the six-year tenure of Andrés Alonso. But the most talented CEO candidates want to be protected from the vicissitudes of changing mayoral administrations and from political trade-offs unrelated to education.


A city schools CEO also benefits from reporting to the Baltimore school board, which, unlike any other school board in the state, is required by law to include members with specific qualifications (i.e., four members who have served in a management position, three members with a high degree of knowledge of education, at least one member with knowledge of children with disabilities, and at least one parent).

Clearly the 10 board members devote more hours to the governance of the district than any mayor could afford to give. As The Sun wrote in March, "the challenges faced by the city school system are so great as to require leadership from people who are not also concerned with running the police department and making sure the trash gets picked up."

Under the current agreement, the mayor and governor have joint responsibility for appointing school board members. To date, no governor has blocked the mayor's recommendations for potential board members.

Moreover, the mayor not only has her bully pulpit to encourage parent engagement, regular attendance, and other initiatives to improve achievement but also can direct key city agencies to provide complementary programs and aligned support, from health services to summer jobs.

Thus, even without control over the CEO, the mayor has significant influence on the educational experiences of Baltimore public school students.

So what is the problem? Why are some civic leaders calling for mayoral control? Why is the state legislature now requiring two of its members to serve on the committee that chooses future CEOs and now allowing two board commissioners to be elected?

The answer lies in the board's own lack of transparency and failure to insist that the CEO and staff make critical information available to the public. By withholding information, the board appears unresponsive and unaccountable.

The recent secret deliberations to choose a new CEO are an example. Frustration with the board's apparent lack of resolve to address deficiencies in current district leadership has resulted in structural changes that threaten the board's authority and ability to provide expert governance. Ironically, a more transparent approach would have protected the board's independence.


Greater transparency would contribute to a range of positive developments, from better informed parents, and fact-based debates on education and related issues to deeper public understanding of the system's strengths and increased trust in the school system.

Mayoral control is the not the route to a better performing school district. But a school board and district that are transparent can galvanize the resources, support and ideas necessary for measurable improvement.

Diana Morris, Baltimore

The writer is director of the Open Society Institute-Baltimore.