School staff shifted because of success City forced to shift federal funds to schools where reading is poor.

October 14, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

Faced with a surge in eligible students, Baltimore school officials have been forced to shift funding within an important federal program in a way that will cut services at 27 elementary schools.

But parents at schools that will lose service complain that good schools are being penalized because their children are doing better than others on standardized reading tests.

"Money ought to be put into programs that are working," says James C. Dugent, president of the Community Advisory Council for Highlandtown Elementary School, which is losing two teacher aides. "Our program works."

At issue is Chapter I, a federal program that serves impoverished schools where a large number of students read at below grade level.

Chapter I funds are used for teacher aides, tutors and classroom materials to compensate for poverty and poor academic performance. The program will serve about 30,000 students at 111 schools this year.

But school officials learned this summer that 7,000 more students were eligible for Chapter I this school year than originally projected.

That forced them to allocate the $45 million in federal funds in a way that focuses the money on the most impoverished schools and the students who perform worst.

"We had to make modifications within the budget to see how many youngsters we could serve," says Mary R. Nicholsonne, assistant superintendent for compensatory education.

Under the changes that go into effect Oct. 21, the 25 schools that qualify for the highest level of Chapter I service will continue to receive full funding.

At other schools, however, all service will cease for fourth- and fifth-graders.

That would eliminate the program entirely at Frankford Elementary, which has only those two grades.

Elsewhere, some schools will lose a certain amount of funding, depending on how well their younger students performed on a new standardized academic test required by the state. Others will gain, as measured against that same yardstick.

In all, 27 schools will lose funding, and 84 will get additional services under the new arrangement.

School officials defend the changes, saying they were forced to spread limited funds throughout the system, in accordance with federal mandates and state guidelines.

But the cutback of service at some schools has angered parents who say their children are being penalized for success.

This is the second time in a year that the city's Chapter I program has been the focus of parental ire.

ZTC In March, the school board postponed for a year a plan to tighten the eligibility standard for Chapter I schools, which is based on the number of children at a school who qualify for free lunch.

The proposed change would have cut some 40 schools from the list. It was postponed until next school year after city officials identified a $2 million windfall in federal funds that would have kept services at their current level.

But the windfall was more than outweighed by the unexpected jump in the number of eligible students.

The result is illustrated at Barclay Elementary School, the site of a pilot program that uses the nationally known Calvert School curriculum in its lower grades.

The private school curriculum was instituted after parents fought for it, and is funded through private grants. It features a highly structured format that focuses heavily on reading and writing skills.

But Gertrude Williams, principal of Barclay, says the cutbacks will cost Barclay three teacher aides, leaving it with fewer aides than required under the pilot project's funding contract with the Abell Foundation.

She attributes the loss to elimination of Chapter I in fourth and fifth grades, and to better performance on standardized tests by many of the children now in the first and second grades.

She has asked School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey to seek a state waiver that would let Barclay's program continue at the current level.

Amprey toured the school last week and praised the program, even as he wrestled with whether to seek an exception for Barclay.

"The difficult part that I have with that is, there are other schools that are not enjoying this kind of success and desperately need the services," said Amprey.

Meldon S. Hollis Jr., a school board member, says the city was forced into this position because Chapter I eligibility is up and funds are tight.

"The effect is, you end up targeting the funds where you're going to do the most good," he says.

But Hollis concedes that the changes could hurt the continuity of service at some programs.

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