City schools net $2.7 million surplus Most will be returned to make up for cuts

August 20, 1998|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Faced with an $11 million deficit last winter, Baltimore school officials froze spending at schoolhouses, reduced overtime, left vacancies unfilled and begged the mayor for a bailout.

The combined efforts worked so well the school system ended the year with a $2.7 million surplus, according to Roger Reese, the school's chief financial officer.

But the city school board isn't dreaming of how it might spend the extra cash -- which represents only one-half of 1 percent of the budget.

Most of the money will go back to schools that gave up field trips, deferred hiring teachers and cut back on library books, pencils and photocopies. Those principals will get the money they saved in addition to their normal allotment for the year.

"I am very pleased that the system ended the fiscal year with a fund balance. It clearly demonstrates that we have moved a long way toward fiscal accountability," said Robert Booker, the school's chief executive officer.

"When we keep our commitments to the schools, there is not going to be any large amounts of money to allocate," Booker said. Whatever is left, however, he will recommend putting in a reserve fund to be used for unexpected expenses that might arise during the year, Booker said. He said he hopes to build the fund over time, but declined to say how large he wants it be.

The surplus comes after a year in which the school board, which took over in June 1997, tried to cope with a budget it didn't write and a hostile political climate.

The state legislature, which had given an additional $30 million to city schools, was not inclined to add money to the city's allotment when the $11 million deficit arose. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who had relinquished part of his control over the schools to the state, at first said he would not bail out the schools. But when he realized that much of the shortfall had been caused when the new school administration had to pick up the bill for spending in the past school administration, the mayor changed his mind and gave the school board $6 million more than the city's annual contribution of $196 million.

City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a 4th District Democrat, said yesterday he was not upset the schools ended the year in the black after the city gave more money to the schools.

Pub Date: 8/20/98

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