Approximately 1,200 city children could find their prekindergarten classes canceled, and 11,300 students who receive free breakfasts could have their meals cut off if recently announced state budget reductions are carried out.
City School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said yesterday that school officials are still poring over the $2 million in school system budget cuts and attempting to come up with a plan to absorb them.
Another $850,000 in cuts will affect programs offered in the schools but funded elsewhere in the city budget.
"We obviously feel that these cuts will be devastating," Amprey said.
The cuts, which came as part of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to close a $450 million state budget gap, affect eight school system programs. They include programs for disruptive youth, dropout prevention, adult education, and community center after-school programs.
The cuts also would hit the Walter P. Carter special education center and high school diploma programs run outside normal school programs. The cuts are slated to go into effect next month.
The main targets of the cuts, as they now stand, are the school system's free breakfast ($647,000) and prekindergarten programs ($857,000). But top school officials said that they will be working to soften the impact of the budget reductions on those programs.
Lillian Gonzalez, a deputy school superintendent, said that the school system will make the cuts in a way that reflects its priorities, one of which is early childhood education. As a result, school officials may end up moving money from other parts of the budget to cover the areas that are cut.
"We may be forced to cut other areas of the school system's budget to keep what we consider critical programs," Amprey said. "This means that these state budget cuts will reach farther than eight programs. They will affect people and services throughout the system."
Amprey would not speculate on what areas might be trimmed, but top officials said that the cuts could mean at least 50 school system layoffs.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has called on state leaders to hold a special legislative session to raise taxes, in order to avert what he said would be a "tragedy" in Baltimore. The city stands to lose $21 million in state aid and up to 800 jobs if the state budget cuts are allowed to go into effect, Schmoke said.
As the debate over a special session rages, Amprey said that top school officials will be planning for the worst. They will be caucusing with school board members to devise a plan to deal with the education cuts as they have been outlined. He said that he hoped to have a specific budget cut plan ready for board approval by "the middle of the month."