City OKs funding for school in Kenya

Unrest, lack of money make its future uncertain

June 15, 2000|By Liz Bowie and JoAnna Daemmrich | Liz Bowie and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Under pressure from parents, Baltimore school officials have promised to come up with more money to try to keep a pioneering program that educates city youths in Kenya going for another year.

The city school board agreed to pick up a larger share of the tuition at the Baraka School, a private boarding school for boys set up by the nonprofit Abell Foundation.

School board members directed their staff to negotiate with the foundation for the next two days to determine an "appropriate" contribution. A decision is expected by tomorrow.

It was unclear yesterday whether the city school district's contribution will be enough to keep the program open next year.

Robert C. Embry, president of the Abell Foundation, said the decision will depend on how much money the school district provides and on finding the right headmaster and staff.

"We'll see what our board thinks," Embry said.

The Baraka School was conceived four years ago as a life-changing experience for youths considered to be in danger of getting into trouble in Baltimore's troubled neighborhoods. The Abell Foundation paid most of the $12,000 to $14,000 yearly tuition to send seventh- and eighth-grade boys to the school it had established in the rural plains north of Nairobi.

Although the students would otherwise have attended city schools, the school district had been contributing only $1,800 per child. The foundation wanted to increase that contribution next year to $7,000 per child.

Baraka School trustees decided several months ago to suspend operations amid concerns about insufficient funding from the school district and a difficult fall semester marked by staff unrest and student misbehavior. Nearly half of the pupils at the Baraka School were sent home because of the disorder last December.

Parents have been fighting to keep the school open at least one more year to permit 17 boys who had begun their studies in Kenya to finish the second half of the two-year program.

"I learned a lot from the experience," said Ryan MacAphee, 14, who hopes to go back in the fall. Ryan's mother, Vera McAphee, said her son returned from Kenya two weeks ago a far more responsible and directed child. His grades have soared, she said, and he is reading books he never would have read a year ago.

At a meeting Tuesday night, school board members appeared to be divided over whether to provide additional money this year. Board President J. Tyson Tildon was opposed, but William Struever and Dorothy Siegel argued that the system had made a commitment to contribute to the school in the past. In addition, the state has been giving the school system money to educate the 17 students who are technically registered at a city school while they live in Kenya.

Struever suggested that the school system pay $6,195 per pupil to Abell, but the suggestion was voted down by the board in favor of having its staff negotiate a final figure with Abell.

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