- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

BALTIMORE — The Maryland State Board of Education approved 22 school system plans yesterday to improve education and reassure lawmakers that a large increase in state aid to schools would be well spent.

However, the board delayed voting on a plan from Baltimore city, which recently announced 710 layoffs after years of poor accounting. Board members also delayed a decision on Dorchester County’s plan because a key plan developer has been ill.

The idea to put together the five-year blueprints for improving education started with the Thornton Commission Act, approved by the legislature in 2002. The act calls for school aid to increase by $1.3 billion by the 2007-08 school year.

“These plans were essential to feeling confidence in terms of what would be done with those dollars,” said State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick after the unanimous vote on 22 of the 24 plans.

Each plan included an assessment of school system needs, an analysis of why achievement gaps exist among groups of students and an examination of gaps in access to highly qualified teachers.

The plans were designed to ensure school system administrators have strategies for improving academic performance and setting benchmarks that can be measured.

Baltimore’s school system is unique because it is the only one under a state-supervised corrective action plan, Mrs. Grasmick said.

The Baltimore layoffs, which were announced last week, have forced the school system to re-examine what it can do in its five-year plan. Most of the cuts were made in the central office, which became bloated in recent years while enrollment dropped.

Mrs. Grasmick said the cuts will not create setbacks in classrooms.

“I really believe that this has been done very strategically,” she said.

Mrs. Grasmick met Monday with Bonnie Copeland, who became chief executive officer of the city’s schools last month, to discuss the focus of the system’s plan after the layoffs.

“They’re now in a position to begin that work, now that they understand what personnel they will have available,” Mrs. Grasmick said.

The school system is expected to have a revamped plan ready by the end of January. Dorchester County will need until the end of this month to submit its plan.

The board plans to review each school system once a year so board members can gauge progress on goals and push for adjustments, Mrs. Grasmick said.

Jo Ann Bell, the board’s vice president, said the plans are an important tool for local education officials.

“You understand where you are,” she said. “You understand where you have to go and what you need in order to get there.”

The education department assembled 13 peer-review panels to evaluate the plans, which were submitted in October.

The panels put together reports about the strengths and weaknesses of the plans. Part of the review process included visiting the school systems.

Among the highlights of the proposals, board staff members said the Howard County plan includes a summary that is an easy reference for parents, teachers and legislators.

The Frederick County plan shows a commitment to accelerating academic achievement of students with disabilities and presents a number of strategies to accomplish that goal, the board staff members also said.

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