Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. sought Tuesday to highlight shortcomings in Baltimore's programs for disabled students and to rebut criticism that a state intervention into the programs is politically motivated.
Ehrlich (R) made a rare appearance at a meeting here of the Maryland State Board of Education, where he was flanked by two posters. One featured excerpts -- such as "a lack of sufficient leadership" and "resources wasted" -- from a federal judge's order this month authorizing a state team to assist city schools officials. The other cited statistics on the limited proficiency of the city's disabled students.
"This is intolerable, and everybody knows it," Ehrlich said during a 10-minute speech.
Some Democrats have suggested that the state effort is aimed at making Baltimore look bad as the city's mayor, Martin O'Malley (D), gears up to run for governor next year.
"Anytime a politician assures you something is not political, you can be sure it's political," said O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney. "It's pretty obvious what he's doing."
State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, an advocate of the intervention, is among those who have been mentioned as possible running mates for Ehrlich next year if Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele seeks the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate. Ehrlich dismissed any connection as "ridiculous" and said politics is not driving the situation.
O'Malley has limited authority over city schools, with no direct control of academic programs but with influence over facilities and financial matters. He and Ehrlich share power to appoint the city school board.
The mayor, however, has touted the progress of city schools in the early stages of a campaign for governor in which he hopes to unseat Ehrlich next year. Anything that deviates from that script is likely campaign fodder for O'Malley's foes.
The judge's order this month was the latest chapter in a 21-year lawsuit in which the state is also a defendant. Before Ehrlich's remarks, Grasmick introduced him to officials from other school districts who will serve on the intervention team with the goal of ensuring that disabled students receive such legally required services as transportation, therapy and counseling.
Ehrlich's only previous appearance before the state school board came in 2003. Spokesman Henry Fawell said he decided to return because "nearly 15,000 special-needs children have had their right to a quality education denied by the city school system. The governor wanted to stress that we have a moral and legal duty to protect these children."