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Let state officials share Baltimore teachers' cuts

March 04, 2004

If we understand what happened, in an effort to raise test scores, Baltimore school officials sent thousands of children to summer school - for free - with money the system didn't have. Now the system needs a $42 million state loan to get through the year and Baltimore officials are complaining loudly that the governor isn't consulting them enough about conditions for getting that loan.

Not consulting them enough? About what, their fiscal expertise or their savvy management skills? Paying too much attention to the people who should have prevented this mess would be like allowing a crash victim's family to stand in the emergency room criticizing the trauma surgeon's technique.

We might be more sympathetic if we hadn't been down this road before. In 1996, then Gov. Parris Glendening settled Baltimore's lawsuit against the state for a quarter of a billion dollars. Then Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore, praised the idea because there would be "a change of a management and a new direction..."

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Apparently that new direction included a detour into a river of red ink. That course change was not noted until it was too late by the State Department of Education, which has talked tough with Baltimore officials, but always seems to let them off the hook.

We'd like to see those state-level officials share the pain that will soon be felt by Baltimore teachers, who may be forced to take a pay cut as part of the deal. Why shouldn't state officials who should have seen this coming take a pay cut of their own?

The Associated Press reports that without a settlement, the Baltimore system will run out of cash in three weeks. Obviously, Gov. Robert Ehrlich will not shut down a system with 90,000 students.

But as he's looking to the needs of those students, he should also be looking for ways to keep faith with Maryland citizens who were assured that the last $250 million they gave Baltimore would make things right.

Obviously it didn't, and Ehrlich could take steps to assure problems won't recur by shaking up the Baltimore school system and the state's educational bureaucracy at the same time.

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