Baltimore's public school principals, teachers, laid-off workers and parents expressed concern last night that in slicing spending to reduce a projected $31 million budget deficit, school system officials would take too much from classrooms and not enough from the central office and consulting contracts.
"Don't balance the budget on the backs of our children. Do not increase class size by one child," said Jacquiline Johnson, the grandmother of two children at Rognel Heights Elementary School. "To furlough classroom teachers who coach youngsters after school is unfair. To ask principals to cut their schools' budgets while central office expands is insulting."
At a hearing to allow public comment on an array of proposals that would reduce spending by $15 million this school year, teacher and principal union representatives asked the school board for more precise figures on how much could be saved by furloughs and layoffs.
The teachers union has asked for the salaries of all employees so that it can do an analysis of personnel costs, which represent about 80 percent of spending. "It is impossible for us to make reasonable recommendations" without more information, said Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.
School officials are expected to release a more detailed list of proposals on how to trim spending on Friday. The information, school board members promised, would be available in the school board office for anyone who wanted it.
The system's chief executive officer, Carmen V. Russo, has proposed six measures to be taken this fiscal year, including layoffs of temporary employees that occurred before Christmas, freezing school budgets, eliminating 250 full-time positions and cutting back on services from consultants and contractors. Another idea that has been floated is reducing the number of academic coaches, who help train and provide support to classroom teachers.
"I think you need to see the face of one of the 300 people you laid off," said Inga Froneberger, who worked at Harlem Park Elementary School as a part-time employee and was among 268 laid off, without notice, before Christmas. Froneberger said she helped out in Harlem Park classrooms. "I loved my job. It was one of the best jobs I ever had."
After applying for unemployment benefits, she said, she was told she would receive $92 a week. "How am I supposed to pay my bills?" she asked school officials.
Two principals spoke in favor of keeping academic coaches, saying they helped first-year teachers improve their classroom skills, but that the school system should re-evaluate the salaries - higher than those of some assistant principals.
The chief operating officer, Mark Smolarz, said last night that the system's projected deficit would be significantly reduced by shifting a $10 million expenditure for new computer software to manage the school system's payroll from the operating budget to the capital budget. Smolarz said that because the state has cut school construction money this year, the system may have more of its capital dollars freed up to pay for the software system.
School officials provided more details last night about other actions that might be taken to reduce spending in the 2004-2005 school year, including:
Increasing class size, perhaps from 18 to 20 in the primary grades.
Reducing the number of weeks of, or number of pupils who attend, summer school.
Delaying new textbook purchases.