City aid for schools held up Baltimore council to hold hearing on budget overruns

'Bucket with a hole'

Schmoke proposed $5 million to cover overspending in 1997

June 11, 1998|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

As the Baltimore school board presses the city for more money, 60 schools overspent their 1997 budgets by such vast amounts that the City Council is charging mismanagement and refusing to allocate nearly $5 million to cover the deficits.

The council's budget chairman, Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., has ordered school budget officials to come before the council today to explain why some schools have spent as much as $768,000 more than their budgets allow.

"I'm tired of giving them a blank check," D'Adamo said. "How do you let 60 schools run over budget to the tune of $4.6 million? They need to tighten their belts and be more responsible. It's like the money is going into a large bucket with a hole in the bottom."

Three schools overspent their budgets by more than $500,000. Patterson Senior High has overspent by $768,023 on its $6 million budget; Northwestern Senior High by $630,475; and Harlem Park Middle by $506,115, according to school administration officials. The other deficits range from $5,400 to $210,000.

Several school principals, including Wyatt Coger at Harlem Park Middle, dispute the school administration's figures, which reflect the school year ending June 1997.

"The numbers are not right," Coger said. "That would be half our budget."

School budget officials are being deluged with appeals from principals who are angry because of the budget figures.

City schools spokeswoman Vanessa C. Pyatt said that 60 of the city's 183 schools are over budget for a variety of reasons, some of which could include mismanagement. But she said that the budget deficits occurred "prior to the new appointment of the school commissioners" in June 1997.

Different problems

"The deficits vary from school to school," Pyatt said. The problems included "hiring practices, some schools were underfunded, and some schools did not project appropriately the improvement to facilities and their need for supplies and equipment."

Even though schools are disputing the amounts, Pyatt said that each has submitted plans to cover their overspending.

Principal decides

Generally, schools are given money based on their projected student populations. That may be supplemented by other funds that take into account student performance and poverty levels. Each principal then determines how the school's money is spent.

Roger Reese, the city's chief financial officer, said yesterday that most of the system's 183 schools in 1997 were operating within their budgets. Because the current school fiscal year does not end until the end of the month, Reese said, he does not know whether the schools are within their budgets this year. Those figures will be available in the summer, he said.

For months, the school board has been begging city officials for more money to operate schools in Baltimore in fiscal 1999. The school board has said that it needs $209 million from the city to run the system correctly. After negotiations, the school board persuaded Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to give about $197 million next year.

When the current allegations of overspending arose, the mayor had tried to make a stand and refuse to give in to the school board's demands, but relented in March after parents protested that the mayor was hampering student scholastic achievements.

Administrative costs

D'Adamo said that for weeks he has been withholding action on the supplementary $5 million the mayor approved that needs council approval before being transferred from city coffers to the schools.

D'Adamo, who represents the East Baltimore 1st District, said that he is not trying to upset parents and that the money is not being withheld from student needs such as books but from administrative costs. Instead, he said his action withholds funding for administrators who are not spending within their means.

West Baltimore Councilwoman Sheila Dixon as well as other council members said they suspect the school system is mismanaging its money. "We can't keep putting money in," Dixon said. "We have got to get our agency's house in order."

Said D'Adamo, "Is this mismanagement? I'm looking for answers. Up to now, I haven't found them."

Budget breakers

City schools that have overspent their budgets by more than $100,000:

1. Patterson Sr. High $768,023.54

2. Northwestern High $630,475.31

3. Harlem Pk. Middle $506,115.71

4. Calverton Middle $210,456.93

5. Carver Vo-Tech $175,337.47

6. Yorkwood Elem. $120,450.88

7. Glenmount Elem. $112,709.13

8. Garrison Middle $112,659.87

9. Southw'tern High $112,004.35

10. Walbrook High $111,338.68

11. Rodman Elem. $104,046.26

Pub Date: 6/11/98

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