- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006

BALTIMORE — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday he is backing the state school board’s plan to bring in outside managers for 11 failing schools in Baltimore, despite opposition from the General Assembly.

The Democrat-controlled assembly appears to have enough votes against the plan to override a veto by Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican. However, the governor said on WBAL-AM radio that the veto-proof margins may not last.

Mr. Ehrlich said he has spoken with Democratic senators in recent days about the plan, which was pushed by Maryland public schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and supported by the board in a vote Wednesday.

“Many [Democrat lawmakers] understand that what Nancy is doing is right, and it’s right for the kids,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

Nobody questions the need to improve the schools, but there is strong disagreement about whether schools are improving and whether the state needs to intervene.

The legislature approved a one-year moratorium on the state plan Friday. The Senate vote was 30-17, only one vote more than what would be needed to override a veto.

Mrs. Grasmick said the measure could jeopardize federal education money to Maryland because the board is using the federal No Child Left Behind Act to justify the takeover.

Mr. Ehrlich also thinks the federal funds will be at risk and said the administration is looking at legal options.

He said opponents to a state takeover are “defending the indefensible” because local officials have had years to improve academic problems.

Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat in the gubernatorial race, has been an outspoken opponent of the state plan, saying schools are making progress and that the plan is a political maneuver in an election year.

Mr. O’Malley scheduled a press conference this weekend to thank legislators for acting to prevent the takeover.

The school board wants to give state education officials the authority to select an outside entity to take over four low-performing high schools to improve them academically. The outside manager would report directly to the state Department of Education.

The city would be required to select entities outside its school system, including charter schools, to manage seven middle schools. The changes would not take place until the 2007-08 school year.

Elected leaders and school officials in Baltimore said the decision was made with no consultation and almost no advance notice from Mrs. Grasmick and the school board.

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