- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Baltimore lawmakers, backed by Democratic legislative leaders, moved quickly in the General Assembly yesterday to draft legislation that would block the state school board’s plan to bring in outside managers for 11 middle and high schools in Baltimore.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller predicted that a bill would be on the desk of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. by the end of the day today, giving the legislature time to override an expected veto before the session ends April 10.

Democrats criticized the board and Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, saying the takeover was a political move to try to hurt the gubernatorial candidacy of Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley.

“This is raw politics at its very worst because it involves our schoolchildren,” Mr. Miller, Southern Maryland Democrat, said.

Mr. Ehrlich heatedly disagreed, saying there are “folks in the General Assembly who want to bury their heads in the sand.”

“We’ve wasted dollars on the Baltimore City school system,” he said. “We’ve not serviced children; we’ve sentenced them. I’m done. Nancy Grasmick’s done.”

The state school board voted Wednesday to give state education officials the authority to select an outside entity to take over four low-performing high schools and turn them around academically. It would report directly to the state Department of Education.

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

No one on either side of the debate questions the need for improvement in city schools.

“We are not satisfied, and we will never be satisfied until our children get the kind of education they deserve,” Delegate Clarence Davis, Baltimore Democrat, said during discussion in the House Ways and Means Committee on a bill to prohibit the state board from going ahead with its plans unless it gets the approval of the General Assembly.

“We have a duty, and we’re failing the kids and the parents,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “We have one school system not cutting it.”

While Mrs. Grasmick and the state board focused on low scores in the 11 schools, Mr. O’Malley and city officials point to big gains made by elementary school students on state tests and a significant increase in the high school graduation rate.

Mrs. Grasmick said the board’s decision has nothing to do with politics or the gubernatorial race. But Democratic leaders, noting the timing, said it is clearly political.

In his campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Mr. O’Malley has been touting the improvement in elementary school scores as evidence the city is turning around the school system despite the challenge of improving education in an impoverished city.

Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt contributed to this report.

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