School board OKs education budget

$885 million city plan includes more funds to raise achievement

April 25, 2001|By Liz Bowie and Erika Niedowski | Liz Bowie and Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school board passed an $885 million budget last night that includes more money for programs to boost academic achievement from elementary to high school.

The final budget, released days ago, is a 3.3 percent increase over last year. Most of the new money is from the state, which added $29.5 million for special programs next year.

The new money will pay for advanced courses in high schools, reading coaches in 16 elementary schools and an expanded summer school program for students who are failing.

School board members praised the new administration for presenting a budget that was more easily understood by the public and better represented the board's priorities than in past years.

"This one really comes the closest in terms of clarity and vision," said board member Sam Stringfield.

Next year's budget reverses two trends in spending during the past several years: Amounts spent on special education and administrative costs are going down.

The layoff and reassignment of more than 100 employees has reduced administrative costs. In addition, the number of students in special education, which is far above the national average, decreased slightly.

Although the school system has seen a significant boost in math and reading test scores in the elementary grades in the past three years, Betty Morgan, chief academic officer, said she wanted to see a faster rise in the test scores.

Morgan said the system will create an office of reading and spend more money on teaching teachers.

The school system's new Reading by 9 program will put 16 reading coaches in schools that have many new teachers, Morgan said.

"Everyone in our schools needs to be a teacher of reading, even if they are teaching history or biology," she said.

The school system also plans to increase the money spent on summer school by $6.1 million, to $11.3 million.

School board members set higher passing standards last year and gave students who were failing the chance to catch up in summer school.

"Our goal is to work toward, for next summer, total summer school for every child who might be retained," said Carmen V. Russo, the school system's chief executive officer.

The system will put more emphasis on math this summer by expanding a program that has worked well at Mount Royal Elementary and Middle School.

"Clearly, math has to become more of a front-burner issue for us," Russo said. "We've been focused on reading, which I think was the correct thing to do, ... but now we do need to move forward."

Morgan said the system will start spending more money on children who are capable of high academic achievement.

Money to improve the high schools will go toward hiring and training new teachers for advanced courses not offered now at many high schools in the city.

The school system is in the midst of a spending freeze.

School officials carried over a $19.1 million deficit from the past fiscal year and have drastically cut costs this year to address a projected shortfall that could have reached $16.8 million.

Mark Smolarz, the chief financial officer, said he hopes to end the year with a slight surplus.

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