Priorities for school reforms detailed City must settle for 40% of funds master plan calls for

March 01, 1998|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Baltimore public schools would need an additional $140 million a year for the next five years to make all of the improvements laid out in the school board's master plan, but they will have to settle for less than half of that in the first year.

Robert E. Schiller, interim head of the schools, detailed his priorities for the first year of school reform in the city yesterday. It was a short list totaling more than $57 million -- about 40 percent of the amount in the master plan -- including $10 million for the continued reduction in class sizes in the early grades, $5.2 million for materials and teacher training to institute a phonics-based reading program and $4 million to begin to prepare high school students for new statewide graduation tests.

But for now, the board will not be able to reduce class sizes above third grade or begin all-day kindergartens, and it will have to defer its program to increase mathematics achievement at least one year while it focuses on reading and language instruction, Schiller said.

"Our needs far exceed our resources, at least three to four times more than what we have," Schiller told the board and about 100 other people at the four-hour work session and public hearing on the master plan.

Schiller and board President J. Tyson Tildon refused to release the detailed spreadsheets of cost estimates they were discussing or Schiller's priority list, saying they were "works in progress" and that the final costs would depend on negotiations with unions representing school employees.

For next school year, the city schools will have an additional $50 million, which the state legislature agreed to give the schools as part of last year's city-state partnership aimed at reforming the schools.

Officials said the schools will receive nearly $40 million in federal funds, but the board will not have unrestricted use of that money because it is earmarked for additional programs for low-income and high-risk students/

Tildon challenged the board and the administrators to be creative in looking at that $40 million so that some of the board's initiatives could be piggybacked onto federally supported programs.

On Schiller's priority list is an alternative high school for students not allowed to stay in regular high schools because of their behavior. Although the $5.5 million price is high, the board has no choice because the legislature required the school it as part of the reform deal, Schiller said.

Board members did not have much to say about Schiller's priorities. Board member C. William Struever pushed Schiller to set a second tier of priorities, which he did, so that the board would have clear direction as it prepares the final version of its master plan.

Among Schiller's other priorities are:

A $6 million information system to track student records.

$3.6 million for training and mentoring programs for new teachers.

At least $1 million for computer-related technology in the schools.

Schiller's two sets of priorities total at least $63 million, which board members indicated they could probably afford.

The board will meet Tuesday to finalize the master plan, which must be submitted to the General Assembly by March 13.

Pub Date: 3/01/98

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