City school board chairman pleads for more funding

$885.4 million budget like `hot dogs and beans'

March 08, 2001|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The chairman of the Baltimore school board made a plea for more education funding last night, saying the proposed $885.4 million budget for next year shows that the district is living on "hot dogs and beans."

"It's not as if this system is eating steak," said J. Tyson Tildon, head of the nine-member school board. "We're subsisting on hot dogs and beans. It's even worse than that. I sit here and almost cry because there are so many points of need."

Last night, board members got their first look at the proposed spending package for the fiscal year that will begin July 1. The plan, which includes $49.9 million in new money, proposes to increase spending on instructional programs by more than 10 percent while decreasing spending on administration by the same percentage.

Mark Smolarz, chief financial officer for the city schools, said the proposal is driven by the priorities outlined in the master plan.

"Program drives the budget," Smolarz said. "We did pretty well there."

But Tildon said the spending plan does not include money for many programs he and other education officials feel are necessary for reforming the schools, whose students have made progress on standardized tests in recent years but still lag far behind the rest of the state.

"What this system suffers from is a lack of funds," Tildon said. "There is a challenge to the policy-makers [in the state and federal governments] that there is a severe need" for more money.

Most of the city's school budget is funded by the state. Gov. Parris N. Glendening agreed this year to provide $55 million in additional funding for fiscal 2002, ending the latest round of legal battling over the appropriate level of state aid to city schools.

Baltimore education chief Carmen V. Russo had originally asked for $101 million.

As a result of the settlement, which has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union and other outside groups, Russo and her staff have had to trim many programs.

Board member Camay Murphy said she hopes the final budget will include more money for middle school reform, which Russo identified - along with high school reform - as a critical area.

Board member Sam Stringfield proposed increasing spending on school libraries and the school system's research and evaluation department.

A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at 5:30 p.m. March 20 at the school system's North Avenue headquarters. The board is expected to vote on the spending plan April 24.

Also yesterday, Russo said she is "very optimistic" that the state and city school boards will approve a contract for Victory Schools to manage Westport Elementary and Middle starting this summer.

At the meeting, officials of the New York-based Victory Schools outlined the company's approach to school reform and said it would conduct regular student assessments - daily, monthly and annually - and stress parent and community involvement.

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