Schools scramble to cover deficit Most city principals cut supplies, equipment

March 24, 1996|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The city's public schools, told to carve $30 per student from their budgets to help close a deficit, are scrambling to replenish their coffers selling Easter candy to pay for math books, postponing repairs and tapping local businesses for contributions.

Late last month, administrators ordered the city's 183 public schools to revise their budgets and return a total of $2.7 million. That demand came with only three months of school remaining and after many schools had spent most of their allocations for the academic year.

"It's past being angry. It's 'What else can they do to us?' " said Dr. Jacqueline Waters-Scofield, principal of Mount Washington Elementary School. "It's frustrating to see the priority education has in the eyes of federal, state and local people who have the purse strings."

Most schools cut from instructional supplies and equipment. Some schools also proposed laying off teachers and staff. But administration officials said they may not allow that to happen.

"Everyone is objecting. It's tough to come up with that much money any time in the budget year," said Sheila Kolman, an administrator who helps schools manage budgets. "Any cut is difficult, especially in an underfunded school district, and that's what we are."

Frustrated principals say they now monitor every piece of paper used and have seen the money they had saved vanish. One school that wanted to buy advanced fractions textbooks turned to money earned from selling Easter candy and trinkets.

"We gave away all the money we had left for textbooks," said Mariale Hardiman, principal of Roland Park Elementary/Middle School. "It's very difficult. We want our children to have 'u everything they need."

The cuts cost $39,000 at her 1,320-student school. To compensate, Ms. Hardiman diverted proceeds from the spring fund-raiser, money that usually is used for extras like gym equipment.

School administrators began discussing the cuts last month. They decided the most equitable approach would be based on enrollment rather than the amount of money each school had remaining in its 1996 budget, said Henry J. Raymond, chief financial officer for the school system.

"We felt the $2.7 million targeted to the schools was not devastating to the schools, while we recognize any cuts are not welcome," Mr. Raymond said. "The schools have been very cooperative and supportive of our efforts."

His staff is reviewing the cuts to see if they are realistic, he said. Only two or three schools asked to be exempt because they cannot afford them, he said.

School officials have been trying to balance this year's budget since last spring, when they realized it would come up short by $30 million. The shortfall stems partly from raises promised teachers during the last mayoral election.

In addition, the legislature froze $5.9 million of expected budget revenue when the school system failed to make management improvements recommended by a consultant. The House has voted to cut the funds permanently; the Senate has not voted yet. The bill was sponsored by Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

On Friday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's spokesman acknowledged that the mayor had long promised that cuts would not hurt schools directly, but pointed to the frozen millions as the culprit. City officials did not know the deficit was so large until this January, said Clinton R. Coleman, the spokesman.

"There is no such thing as painless cuts, and it's becoming clear that the $5.9 million Delegate Rawlings is trying to withhold from the school is going to impact the schools," Mr. Coleman said.

For many school administrators, frustration about the cuts went beyond concerns over whether there would be enough art supplies.

Dr. Waters-Scofield said returning the $10,000 felt like emptying her savings account. Mount Washington Elementary had accumulated a surplus for the year and had hoped to use it in the event of further cuts next year. In their individual budgets, schools carry over surpluses and deficits into the next academic year.

"We don't have any cushion for next year. That's my concern," she said.

A broken duplicating machine to copy papers for her 377 elementary students will go unrepaired this year, and all supplies are watched carefully, she said.

Her budget is all local revenue, she said. Her school doesn't get federal poverty grants.

But even at schools that have that extra revenue officals say the city's cuts hurt. At Cherry Hill Elementary, which has 378 students, Principal Geraldine Hale-Smallwood needed $6,000 in donations from three businesses to make up for the lost funds. The businesses have philanthropic partnerships with the school.

Some parents of children in the school system worry that the cuts are jeopardizing their children's education.

The schools "can't afford to lose any of the money they do have," said Roland Park parent Talaya Sample.

Pub Date: 3/24/96

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