School funding protests miss target

June 30, 1999|By Gregory Kane

IT'S THE RIGHT cause, but the wrong target. The protests continue about inequities in funding for Baltimore schools. A week ago Tuesday, demonstrators representing three citywide high schools -- Poly, Western and Dunbar -- converged on the North Avenue school headquarters to plead their case.

They had been there two weeks earlier, on June 8, the day of the Beltway bridge collapse. A letter sent to news media stressed that these demonstrations were not "City-bashing" rallies, referring to the $3.3 million in "resources beyond the staffing formula" that City College received this past school year.

But as demonstrators circled school headquarters on June 8, this chant was heard distinctively:

"City College gets the cash, all the rest get just a dash."

That's City-bashing. It's not even well-disguised, subtle City-bashing. And it's not even accurate City-bashing.

Let's briefly review how city schools are funded. According to spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt, all city schools get an equal dollar amount per pupil. Extra money under the "resources beyond the staffing formula" are allocated based on special programs a school might have.

One such institution is the Baltimore School for the Arts. Principal Stanley E. Romanstein said his school is funded like City, receiving roughly $1 million in "resources beyond the staffing formula." And much like City's supporters, Romanstein says his school couldn't survive without the money. His worry is that the demonstrators, in trying to shoot City College in the foot, might blast off both knees of his school.

Romanstein added that 23 schools besides his and City also get the extra money "for very specific reasons."

Among the institutions are the Laurence G. Paquin School -- whose students are either young mothers or mothers-to-be -- and several special education schools. Like City Principal Joseph Wilson, Romanstein says much of his extra money is used to keep the building operating.

"We're housed in a 1925 vintage hotel," Romanstein said. The remainder of the money goes for faculty salaries and one-on-one training for students. The school pays for teachers from the Peabody Institute and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to give private music lessons to some students.

"We have some students who perform at an exceptional level and we need to help them in every way we can," Romanstein said. When asked his opinion of City's funding level, Romanstein answered, "I don't think it's a political thing of 'Let's give more money to City College.'"

But there are some minds that think that conspiratorially. In addition to the "City College gets the cash" chant, some demonstrators carried signs that read "Stop the politics."

Kathe O'Quinn, whose daughter graduated from Western, remembers the girl arriving at an advanced placement mathematics class where there were 40 other students, some sitting on the floor. O'Quinn said members of her neighborhood community association feel City gets extra money because Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is a City alumnus.

"It looks awful fishy to a lot of people," O'Quinn said.

For the record, Schmoke has said through a spokesman that he has nothing to do with school funding. That denial probably won't quiet the critics who really believe that Schmoke is stupid enough and corrupt enough to sit down in City Hall and order school officials to give his alma mater millions more than other schools.

Once folks get their minds made up on an issue, it's hard to persuade them otherwise. Lack of facts and evidence has no effect on them. There is no proof Schmoke played favorites in school funding, but he's proclaimed guilty nonetheless. When the extra money for the School for the Arts was pointed out to demonstrators, they claimed Romanstein had justified his extra money by naming specific programs, whereas City's Wilson hadn't.

That's not the case. In addition to building maintenance, security and reducing class size, Wilson named several programs that are paid for with the extra money: the International Baccalaureate program, the band and choir, after-school tutoring, a summer math academy and a summer scholars program designed to bring students, considered academically "at risk," up to par to enter City.

That's just a partial list. Wilson had much more.

When demonstrators claim, in essence, "we believe Romanstein, but we don't believe Wilson," it smacks of so much City-bashing, which hardly helps the cause. If the folks inside school headquarters, the ones who sit on the school board, hear the chants and get the notion that the demonstrations are nothing more than City-bashing rallies, they might be inclined to dismiss the protests and ignore the truth: All city schools need much more money than what they're getting.

Pub Date: 06/30/99

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