School achievement stifled by low funding, Hunter says

November 21, 1990|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

Baltimore's top school official today painted a portrait of an underfunded system where school performance nonetheless is rising, as measured by some standards.

But School Superintendent Richard C. Hunter also conceded that Baltimore has a long way to go -- a point underscored by the city's failure to meet any of the eight standards in a state school performance report earlier this week.

"It is much more difficult for us to meet these high standards that the state has established" without the same funding that suburban districts have, said Hunter, who released a report on the 1989-1990 school year.

He said city schools, which had an enrollment of 108,996 last year, must deal with poverty-related problems that do not face the better-funded suburban systems.

But Hunter said that increased funding "is not my problem to solve," and said the school district still must push to improve achievement with the resources it has.

He cited specific goals for improvement on the state's four basic competency tests, including reading, writing and mathematics.

"Everybody doesn't begin the race equally -- we know that," he said. "But I can assure you that we intend to finish the race."

Among the results cited in the superintendent's report:

* Systemwide attendance of 86.4 percent last year, an increase of 0.7 percent from attendance figures the year before.

But Hunter also noted that the 1988-89 school year figures had been inflated by practices that have since been eliminated, such as allowing irregular school attendance after Memorial Day.

* A student promotion rate of 87.1 percent, an increase of more than 1 percent over the previous year. Two elementary schools posted promotion rates of 100 percent and seven schools overall posted rates of 98 percent.

* A pass rate of 43.3 percent on the state's basic competency test in mathematics, as measured by ninth-graders who took the tests for the first time, far below the 80 percent "satisfactory" standard.

But school officials also have said the percentage of students who passed the test -- including those who had taken it before -- increased 5 percent over the previous year.

* A pass rate of 67.3 percent for ninth-graders on the basic writing test, below the 90 percent "satisfactory" rate. The number of students passing increased 9 percent from the year before.

* A total of 3,582 students graduating from the system, and 990 seniors received financial and scholarship awards totaling $2.4 million.

* A balanced budget at the end of the last fiscal year, the first time in recent years that the school department has ended its year without a deficit. Cost savings included $3 million from the elimination of 119 central office positions.

* Improved school security and discipline, including 20 percent fewer firearms incidents, a 40 percent drop in illegal drug incidents, a 19 percent drop in suspensions and a 30 percent drop in expulsions.

But Hunter also stressed the link between increased funding and improved performance.

"It is much more difficult for us to meet those high standards that the state has established" without having the same funding level as the richer suburban systems, he said. "And they don't face the challenges that we face."

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