City school board trims $5 million from its budget Principals avoid $20-per-pupil cuts at least for now

Administrators hit hard

Parents pack meeting to demand more funds from mayor, Assembly

March 18, 1998|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Responding to public pressure to shield students from spending cuts, the Baltimore school board trimmed $5 million from its budget last night, leaving educational programs mostly intact but hitting North Avenue administrators hard.

To erase a budget deficit, about $2.7 million will be cut from administrative expenses after this school year, a move that could force staff furloughs. And North Avenue school headquarters will have to cut another $1.3 million by freezing its budget, reducing overtime and leaving vacancies unfilled.

But the good news for city school principals is they won't have to reduce their budgets by $20 per pupil -- at least yet -- as had been proposed.

Principals of the city's 183 schools had already drawn up plans to give back the money from their budgets by cutting back on everything from photocopies, to books, to buses for field trips, to art teachers. They will, however, still have to freeze their budgets in an effort to eliminate $1 million in expenditures for equipment and school supplies.

In the past month, the school board has begun reducing class size, changing the way reading is taught and making other sweeping reforms, but its most controversial decisions thus far have involved spending.

Dozens of angry parents and teachers have attended the past several board meetings to protest the cuts. Last night, the board's meeting room was packed, as many people demanded that the board go to the mayor and General Assembly for extra money rather than make cuts.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III argued that city government had ceded control of the schools to the state for far too little financial support in return and now state legislators were reneging on their promises.

"It was a bad agreement, and it has gone from bad to worse," he said. But Bell did not promise more financial support from the city government.

And the board's only student member, Shannon Christmas, a City College sophomore, said: "Everyone seems so willing to cut $20 [per student] and freeze budgets. You are really making the cuts and freezes in student progress."

Christmas pointed out that some students are using 30-year-old textbooks.

As part of the budget reductions, City College, which has $1 million in its budget for maintenance and renovations to its aging building, will have to defer that spending.

As well as making cuts to close the books, the school board is scrutinizing next year's spending plan and, according to sources, is proposing to cut $1.8 million -- a 28 percent reduction -- from City College's budget unless the City Council and mayor come up with the money.

Another $400,000 would be sliced from the School for the Arts. Both schools receive more money per student than other high schools in the system.

School officials would not confirm the exact figures for the two schools yesterday, but they conceded that cuts were being contemplated.

A meeting of City College parents has been called for 6 p.m. today at the school, 3220 The Alameda, to discuss the proposed budget cuts.

"Why would you lower the budget of one of the best schools so that it is comparable to other schools? Why wouldn't you raise the standards across the board instead of lowering the standards across the board?" said Yvonne Davis-Robinson, the xTC mother of an 11th-grader and president of the Parent Teacher Student Organization at City College.

City College, one of the top high schools in Baltimore, has received about $5,500 a year per student from the city and state. About $700 per pupil goes back to the school system to pay for fuel oil, cafeteria and other expenses not related to instruction.

Other citywide high schools that students apply to go to, such as Western and Polytechnic Institute, receive between $2,700 and $3,000 per student. The zoned or neighborhood schools receive about $3,000 per student, although some of the most troubled ones, such as Northern High School, have received millions each year from the state to try to make them better.

Joseph Wilson, principal of City College, said he has not received any formal word about the proposed cuts, but he said he has heard rumors about them.

The school board's action last night failed to find the whole solution to a deficit that now reaches $10 million. About $7 million of the deficit was the result of additional spending on special education that began two years ago. The remainder comes from a variety of additional costs, including millions incurred by the previous school administration.

The board will have to come up with an additional $4 million in cuts before the end of school.

Board members said they hoped that the deficit can be reduced by at least $2 million in state funds held hostage until the board had completed a new policy for evaluating teachers.

The policy was adopted late last year.

In addition, the board hopes the city will come up with some additional money to erase the deficit as it has in past years.

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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