Also, three city school unions will vote today on a crucial compromise that would require them to accept temporary 3.5 percent pay cuts to avoid even deeper salary reductions or possible mass layoffs.
If the unions reject this package, school officials say, they will impose 6.8 percent pay cuts or lay off up to 1,200 of the system's more than 11,000 employees.
"Clearly, people are fed up," said Kevin Slayton, president of the city school system's Parent Community Advisory Board. "I think parents are just concerned in general with the education in Baltimore City. These children who are primarily children of color seem to get a second-rate education, and I think it's just reached a peak."
As the crisis escalated:
Bill Reinhard, a state schools spokesman, said Grasmick's panel of private citizens from the business, legal and education fields will launch a "broad-ranging" inquiry.
"If it looks as though there is criminal wrongdoing, they will turn it over to the [state] attorney general," Reinhard said.
The school system is facing a $58 million cumulative deficit. As a result, 800 school employees, including teachers, guidance counselors and aides, were laid off earlier this school year.
Schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland has said she intends to impose a pay cut or lay off workers if the proposal is rejected.
"This has kind of awoken a deep-seated need in this city for citizens' activism," said Bob Heck, head of Advocates for Reform at the Top, a grassroots group of parents from Roland Park and Mount Washington elementary schools - one of the parent groups calling for a criminal investigation. "We are working hard to try to be the voice of the one group that must be protected, which is children."
Heck said his group will meet tomorrow morning with the deputy attorney general to discuss its concerns.
Hamilton said his group also is calling for a criminal investigation as well as an audit of the system's hiring practices.
In addition, he said, parents are considering filing lawsuits.