- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley is a liberal Democrat who doesn’t take bad news very well — especially when it comes to the continuing meltdown in his city’s public-school system. Last week, the Maryland Board of Education placed 16 Baltimore schools on probation due to high numbers of student expulsions and suspensions.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a school that exceeds a certain level of suspensions and expulsions for three consecutive years is declared “persistently dangerous.” If the situation is not corrected in one year at these schools, Baltimore will be forced to permit students there to transfer to less violent schools.

This is good news for city children from poor families at these troubled schools. But good news for them is bad news for a mayor who wants to be governor and doesn’t want his political future undermined by press stories about children fleeing Baltimore’s violent schools. So, Mr. O’Malley — aided by his journalistic enablers at the editorial board of the Baltimore Sun — tried to depict himself a victim of the dark machinations of State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick and her boss, Gov. Robert Ehrlich. The mayor is expected to run against Mr. Ehrlich, a moderately conservative Republican, two years from now.

Mr. O’Malley claimed he had been “blindsided” by the news that the 16 city schools were placed on probation. The mayor shouldn’t have been — unless he’s stopped talking to Bonnie Copeland, the CEO of city schools. WBAL Radio in Baltimore obtained and posted on its Web site three letters from Mrs. Grasmick to Mrs. Copeland indicating that the city school system in Baltimore was notified on July 29, more than three weeks before the state Board of Education publicly announced the news.

According to the Sun — which ran an editorial Friday depicting Mr. O’Malley as a victim of the Ehrlich-Grasmick cabal — Mrs. Copeland is already addressing the problem of violence through restructuring the schools and a “conflict resolution” program. Moreover, the city disputes some of the statistical data on school violence compiled by the state Board of Education. So, the paper suggests, the board should have waited until next month, when city and state officials are supposed to discuss the violence issue more comprehensively, to talk about the problem in public. We strongly disagree.

The truth is that the problems of thuggery and violence in Baltimore schools have been festering for decades. Certainly, the children — many of them from poor, single-parent families who lack the financial means to attend private schools that provide the discipline and structure that public schools so often lack — are well aware that they are attending dangerous schools. There is never a bad time to have an intelligent, thoughtful discussion about this problem, even if doing so complicates Mr. O’Malley’s political advancement.

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