City plans to cut staff

School system layoffs aim to eliminate $4.5 million deficit

Temporary workers let go

Officials say fewer than 50 permanent workers will leave

January 28, 2002|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school system has laid off between 50 and 60 temporary workers and plans to lay off permanent administrative staff as part of an effort to eliminate a projected $4.5 million deficit.

Mark Smolarz, the school system's chief operating officer, said eliminating the temporary workers -- who were let go this month -- will save an estimated $1.7 million.

Eliminating additional administrative staff, mainly from the system's North Avenue headquarters, is expected to save another $2 million, Smolarz said.

The number of permanent employees to be laid off has yet to be decided, but school officials indicated that it will be fewer than 50 and they will probably leave in March.

"We're going to try to minimize this as much as we can, but we still need to do what's fiscally responsible for the system," said Carmen V. Russo, chief executive officer of the 95,000-student school system.

"We've tried to be very thoughtful and look at everything before going to layoffs," she said.

The school system laid off or reassigned about 10 percent of the central administration's 700 to 800 employees about a year ago when faced with a much larger projected shortfall of $16.7 million in that fiscal year.

Another 100 temporary workers, many of them custodians, were also let go.

The school system had expected to get $10.5 million more in revenue in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

But because expenses are expected to be $6 million less than anticipated, the actual budget gap is $4.5 million.

To make up the difference, officials have put in place cost-cutting measures that are expected to save about $5 million.

In addition to layoffs, the school system is cutting about $800,000 in equipment purchases, including some computers for schools, Smolarz said.

The school system is also cutting $500,000 in other administrative costs, including professional development, travel and food, he said.

Hiring and travel freezes will remain in effect.

The $4.5 million deficit -- which school officials have pledged to eliminate by June 30 -- represents less than 1 percent of the school system's annual $885 million budget.

The system is also trying to eliminate a multimillion-dollar deficit from a previous year.

"We are still looking to eliminate the cumulative deficit in the general fund by the end of the year," Smolarz said.

According to the school system's November financial report, revenue was lower than expected in several areas.

An increase in enrollment at the three Baltimore schools run by the private for-profit Edison Schools, which added sixth-grade programs this academic year, meant $3 million less for the school system.

The system had also expected to get $1.5 million more from the state as part of the governor's Teacher Salary Challenge program.

Smolarz said the city is working with the state to try to reconcile the difference.

Investment revenue is also projected to fall short by $1.5 million because of lower interest rates, Smolarz said.

Chief Financial Officer Henry J. Raymond told the school board last week that the school system will take "whatever steps are required" to balance its budget.

"If the [savings] do not materialize as we hope, further actions will be taken," he said.

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