Schmoke gives $2 million more to schools Latest pledge averts $20-a-student cut, brings city's bailout to $6 million

March 27, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

In a reversal of his hard fiscal stance last week, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke pledged yesterday to give the city school system $2 million more to help close its budget deficit.

The support means that a proposed $20 per student cut covering everything from textbooks to field trips will be averted for the current school year.

"Wonderful," said Harford Heights Elementary School Principal Goldye Sanders, who was prepared to cut library book spending. "It most definitely will help."

Schmoke made the commitment one week after criticizing school system leaders for failing to adequately address their budget deficit. Schmoke dedicated $1 million a week ago from unused city snow-removal money.

But he told school leaders they would have to tighten their belts to come up with the remainder of the $11 million shortfall.

Schmoke had a change of heart after realizing that the budget deficit occurred because of a transition between the former and current school boards, he said yesterday. Last summer, the state began to share management of city schools.

"The children shouldn't suffer because of a transition problem," Schmoke said. "It was very important to me that parents not lose confidence in this new school board and school system."

School leaders helped close the gap by finding $3 million in savings at the system's central administration. Last month, Schmoke gave the schools an initial $3 million toward the deficit. The latest pledge will bring the city's total to $6 million, leaving about $2 million more for school administrators to cover.

School leaders were grateful for the latest city support, saying that it will prevent painful cuts that would reach into classrooms.

"This is a tremendous contribution to these needs," said Tyson Tildon, school board chairman. "We still need some fragments of funds, but I'm very pleased."

Where the city is going to get the $2 million pledged yesterday is in question. Schmoke said he keeps a reserve fund for catastrophes, but city budget administrators said they will try to find savings in municipal spending before tapping any savings.

"We're scraping around," city budget director Ed Gallagher said. "That's what we're trying to identify."

Schmoke's actions are a considerable step in making peace with the schools, which have been beset with money problems. Under a reform plan adopted last year, the state agreed to pour more than $254 million into Baltimore schools during the next decade.

But this year, new school leaders faced $7 million in unbudgeted special-education costs.

In making his pledge to help yesterday, Schmoke warned school leaders not to expect the city -- facing its own revenue troubles -- to bail out the system in the future.

"They will have to continue their belt-tightening," Schmoke said. "But we want to put the children first."

Schmoke's words were soothing to school principals such as Sanders, who faced cutting student services by $25,000.

"If everybody did that with that in mind, that the children come first, we wouldn't make any mistakes," Sanders said.

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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