No frills? More like threadbare Budget: In Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's proposed $654.2 million budget, classroom teachers are outnumbered.

Education Beat

June 30, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THE RATIO OF PIANOS to piano tuners in the city school system will be 1,114-to-1 if Superintendent Walter G. Amprey has his way with a proposed $654.2 million budget for the next school year.

The ratio of classroom teachers to other employees under that budget would be 0.987 to 1.

The piano statistic demonstrates how threadbare the system has become as it cuts down on such "frills" as art and music to make ends meet.

You might argue that it's better to have teachers than piano tuners, but the resources saved by Amprey and his predecessor, Richard C. Hunter, don't necessarily translate into more classroom instruction: There are fewer teachers in Baltimore than other education employees.

Dale Smith, the 38-year-old piano tuner, in fact handles all of the pianos in the system, or at least all of those that aren't assigned to private tuners by principals who have that option under the city's "enterprise" plan, a euphemism for decentralization.

Twenty years ago, Baltimore had four tuners and two people repairing musical instruments. As recently as last December, there were two tuners and one repair technician.

Then all three, including Smith, were laid off.

Smith alone was rehired in March. He was relieved to hear last week that his position is retained in Amprey's 1997 budget. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, please don't lay off the piano tuner. He is doing his best.

He's especially strained, Smith said, because a call for tuning in Baltimore schools "really means there's something wrong with the piano."

It has been 10 years since the city purchased a piano, and many are in need of repair.

(A number of pianos, Smith said, have found their way out of the system "in the wrong manner" -- a polite way of saying they've been pinched. Smith knows about this because as a moonlighting tuner outside the schools he occasionally encounters a piano with a familiar ping.)

Meanwhile, according to Amprey's 1996-1997 budget summary, there would be 86 more nonteaching employees than teachers this fall (6,532-to-6,446).

This is a trend of several years' standing, and it's not an indication that the superintendent has put the money in the top-level bureaucracy. In fact, he has cut back on the executive fat at North Avenue.

And of course many hundreds of employees -- counselors, aides, psychologists, principals, librarians and the like -- have contact with students every day, though they're not counted here as teachers.

But the city feeds breakfast and lunch to thousands of students. It has to place security officers at secondary schools.

It has to paint and fix and transport supplies, materials and paperwork. Its court-monitored special education division employs dozens of people who aren't teachers.

On the payroll, there are 21 "chauffeurs" who mainly carry things (not people) from school to school, seven glaziers and a glazier supervisor, 104 office assistants and 54 office supervisors, eight painters, 140 school secretaries, 101 security officers, some 1,100 aides and paraprofessionals (many in the classroom), some 600 food workers, nearly 100 "cafe managers," 37 bus drivers. The list goes on and makes for fascinating reading on how Baltimore spends two-thirds of a billion dollars on its schools.

For example, Amprey's own office has 31 employees in his budget proposal, but only three of them are associate and assistant superintendents. Amprey's office is more than twice the size of the entire bureaucracy overseeing the 101 schools of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore.

All told, city schools employ almost 13,000 full- and part-time people without whose wages Baltimore would collapse economically. The school system is more than an education agency, more than a social-services agency. It's also a vast social welfare agency.

Gender studies

The "experts" -- or a few of them -- were saying last week that the Supreme Court's decision to allow women to enter Virginia Military Institute would doom all publicly supported single-sex schools, perhaps even all single-sex schools that receive public aid of any kind. Here's a status report on Maryland:

Hood College in Frederick calls itself "a residential college for undergraduate women." The private college admits men as commuter and graduate students. Its dormitories are for women only.

The College of Notre Dame of Maryland remains a women's school in its undergraduate division, though its weekend college and graduate programs have accepted men for years.

Hood received $1.1 million and Notre Dame $1.5 million in state money last year under a program of aid to independent colleges. (Twenty years ago, that program passed a crucial court test on church-state separation.) Both schools, and their students and professors, receive other kinds of state and federal aid.

The 152-year-old Western High School in Baltimore, Maryland's only single-sex public school, does not say it is for girls only. Rather, it refers male applicants to City College and other schools with similar programs.

The federal Office of Civil Rights investigated Western in 1992 and found that it "did not exclude male students from applying or attending and was therefore in compliance" with federal laws.

Fifteen schools in the Baltimore archdiocese are single-sex, as are about 18 of the 96 members of the Association of Independent Maryland Schools. The parochial and private schools accept little public aid.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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