Md. panel hears plea for city's schools

Residents, educators, officials join in seeking more money for needs

`Doing education on the cheap'

September 11, 2001|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Baltimore education officials, backed by hundreds of parents, principals, students and city politicians, delivered this message last night to members of a state task force studying the way Maryland funds public education: They need more money.

In a hearing at City College called by the Thornton Commission, city educators and dozens of city schools advocates testified about the need for additional school funding - for everything from special education services to new musical instruments.

Joseph M. Wilson, principal of City College, told commission members that the state is "doing education on the cheap."

Derrick Hewlett, an 11th-grader at Frederick Douglass High School who is president of the student body there and the Associated Student Congress of Baltimore City, testified that he and his classmates don't have enough textbooks and that teachers are sometimes forced to buy their supplies.

Jill Warzer, a city schools music curriculum specialist, tried to get her point across another way: She approached the podium with a music teacher from Edmondson-Westside High School who was carrying a battered tuba that is more than 40 years old.

"We need new instruments for our students," Warzer said.

Last night's hearing was one of five being held simultaneously across the state by the Thornton Commission, which is charged with overhauling the way Maryland finances public education.

Preliminary studies conducted for the 27-member panel - formally known as the Commission on Education Finance, Equity and Excellence - have indicated that the state needs to spend as much as $2 billion more.

The commission is expected to release a report this year calling for a big boost in spending, as well as suggestions for how the state might finance it. Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the General Assembly will consider the commission's recommendations during next year's legislative session.

In the night's opening testimony, Patricia L. Welch, chairwoman of the city school board, painted a picture of a school system with "unique challenges," including thousands of homeless children and unwed mothers as well as a high concentration of students with special needs.

The school district is committed to educating them all, she said, but needs the appropriate funding to be able to do so.

Also among those testifying were city schools Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo and Mayor Martin O'Malley, City Council President Sheila Dixon, Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris and Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson.

City school officials asked the governor recently for nearly $363 million in extra state aid to support a range of programs for the year beginning July 1.

Though the city's request for extra aid was more than three times larger than what was asked for last year, Russo has described it as "in tandem" with the preliminary studies prepared for the Thornton Commission. City school officials believe that their share of any extra funding recommended by the task force is from $100 million to $500 million.

State Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat, inspired whoops and hollers and a standing ovation for his testimony, in which he addressed how the problem of finding resources can be overcome.

"We did it for the Inner Harbor," he said. "We did it for the convention center. We did it for Oriole Park at Camden Yards. We did it for Ravens stadium. We can do it for the young people of Baltimore City public schools."

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