Baltimore School Superintendent Richard C. Hunter proposed yesterday a $551.2 million budget for the next fiscal year that would largely maintain the status quo while financing two of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's dearest priorities: greater local control and extra money for individual schools.
Later, in the first show of organized support for the superintendent since the school board voted last month not to renew his contract, about 20 citizens called for Dr. Hunter to be retained, castigated the board and pledged to campaign for an elected board, instead of one appointed by the mayor.
The group brought signatures from 29 citizens to last night's school board meeting and said they represented the leaders of neighborhood associations throughout the city.
Cecil E. Barrington, president of the Beechfield Community and Improvement Association, said the board should give Dr. Hunter, whose contract will expire July 31, a seven-year contract to provide stability.
"This system must settle down," said Betty Martin. "We hire an excellent educator and give him a mandate for change, and as soon as he starts to do this, he is criticized, chastised, sometimes publicly. . . . Dr. Hunter has not been given the time and support to do the job he was hired to do."
Ms. Martin said the group intends to hold a vigil for Dr. Hunter at City Hall.
After the meeting, Dr. Hunter said he was gratified by the show of support. "I'm glad there are people who recognize that it's a difficult job to be superintendent of Baltimore City public schools."
The superintendent's proposed budget, which represents a 9.5 percent increase over last year's $503.3 million, includes about $4 million in new programs or improvements to existing services.
Otherwise, the budget represents no expansion of services for the system's 108,000 students.
School officials said the proposed budget is a realistic reflection of what Mayor Schmoke has said he would be willing to finance. The budget also is to be Dr. Hunter's last as Baltimore superintendent.
If the proposed budget is adopted by the school board and City Hall, the school system will be spending $47.9 million more than it did last school year.
Most of the increase would pay for the growing cost of salaries and benefits. Included is $16.6 million for raises for most school employees.
The proposed $4 million in new programs would be partly financed by cutting a net 34 positions from central administration and by extending a hiring freeze on non-instructional staff.
The moves would be accomplished through attrition, not layoffs, said Judson C. Porter, the system's chief financial officer.
In addition to the new programs or improvements initiated by the school system, the budget sets aside $2.09 million for programs necessary to prepare for a series of changes -- including new tests -- mandated by the state.
The proposed $4 million in new programs or improved services would include:
* $2.1 million for the school system's Writing to Read program.
* $800,000 for a grants program that would would fund improvement projects proposed by schools.
* $600,000 for a pilot restructuring project.
* $150,000 for staff development.