School bells in Baltimore Staying focused: It will be difficult for teachers facing the threat of more budget cuts.

August 26, 1996

AS THE CITY population continues to decline, so does the number of students in its public schools. Superintendent Walter G. Amprey says last year's 113,000 students may decline by as many as 4,900 this year. Yet many classrooms will be at capacity when school begins next week, with up to 40 students per teacher at some high schools and 25 to 35 per teacher in the lower grades.

The inability to reduce class sizes is testament both to the school system's poverty and to the unpopularity of gritty urban schools among today's teacher corps. Suburban schools have their pick of teacher applicants while Baltimore takes what it can get. And with the city about to go to court over inadequate state funding, no one knows when the situation will improve.

Students returning to Baltimore schools will find teachers trying to stay focused while fearful of financial calamity. The schools' $654 million budget is $7.5 million short due to expenditures that Dr. Amprey says had to be made. But that isn't the whole story. To pressure Baltimore administrators to make suggested management reforms, an angry state legislature is withholding $18 million in regular state funding plus another $12 million in supplemental aid.

The inability of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Gov. Parris N. Glendening to agree on a plan giving Baltimore schools added funds in exchange for more state oversight means the issue could wind up in court. Trial on the city's school funding lawsuit is scheduled to begin Nov. 6. It could take a year or more for the trial, ruling and appeals to conclude. Even then, there is no guarantee the city will win its case -- and gain extra money.

With all the uncertainty over funding, it will be difficult for Baltimore teachers to remain motivated. Many of their students, coming from homes beset by urban ills, under the best of circumstances would represent a challenge. That challenge becomes more acute as city teachers anticipate additional cuts that will have to be made before the school year ends if the state funding dispute cannot be resolved.

As Baltimore's children return to classes, teachers must keep doing the best with what they have while hoping the mayor and governor quickly reach an accord that leaves schools both better funded and better managed.

Pub Date: 8/26/96

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