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Time for Grasmick to go

July 20, 2005

Remember back in 1993, when presidential candidate Ross Perot predicted the "giant sucking sound" of American jobs going south if the North American Free Trade Agreement were passed?

Well, Marylanders should prepare to hear the sound of lots of dollars being sucked out of their wallets if state education officials succeed in their bid to take over the Baltimore City school system.

It's not that the system doesn't require a major shakeup. We just have no faith that state education officials are up to making improvements.

Those officials called for the takeover Monday in U.S. District Court, saying that the Baltimore system had failed to provide an "appropriate public education to more than 15,000 special needs children."

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The court proceeding including a litany of bad news: Almost 99 percent of 10th-graders with disabilities failed the state reading test in 2005.

And, students with disabilities had a graduation rate of only 32 percent. In 2000, the system pledged that would improve to 41.6 percent.

The state is now asking the court to appoint someone to take control of all aspects of the system, including transportation and personnel functions.

If this sounds familiar, that's because the state has been down this path before. In 2000, Nancy Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, announced the takeover of 10 Baltimore schools that were still performing unsatisfactorily, despite a 1996 deal that added $250 million in new money over five years.

As part of that deal, the state got more say in how the Baltimore school system was run. Apparently the extra authority didn't help. Three years later, Grasmick said she was giving poorly performing schools another year to shape up.

Some of those schools had been on that list since 1993, which led one Baltimore child-advocacy group to complain that the time those schools had already spent on probation was just "extra years of no results."

Grasmick said then that the schools needed an extra year because they were operating under a new "master plan" written after the schools yielded partial control to the state.

Despite that additional oversight, by 2004 Baltimore's school system faced a $75 million deficit and the takeover talk started again.

A year later, it's another chorus of the same old song.

It seems clear that Marylanders are paying top education officials to provide oversight and guidance that isn't having the desired result, despite the addition of more and more taxpayers money.

If Baltimore's system has failed, it's at least in part because Grasmick and company failed to find the formula to turn it around. It's time to give someone else a chance to do what they haven't been able to for more than 10 years.

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