Schools propose to erase deficit

Officials' remedies include layoffs, furloughs

$30 million would be saved

Board will consider proposal Tuesday

January 11, 2003|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Baltimore school officials gave board members yesterday a proposal that would virtually eliminate a $31 million deficit, using measures that would include layoffs and furloughs but avoid cutting classroom teachers.

The preliminary proposal, drawn up by schools chief Carmen V. Russo and Chief Operating Officer Mark Smolarz, identifies several areas that, if trimmed, could save the district $30.2 million.

If the recommendations are adopted by the nine-member school board at a meeting Tuesday night, the district would nearly balance the current fiscal year budget.

The school system, which has been grappling with the deficit for months, was assailed Thursday by state lawmakers in Annapolis for mismanagement of the district's finances.

Among the proposed remedies are a furlough of all staff members for two days, which would save $5.6 million. Smolarz said the furloughs would occur on days off for students, such as holidays or teacher training days. Employees who make more than $60,000 would be furloughed a third day for a savings of $1 million.

Top officials are also recommending the elimination of about 50 academic coaching positions for a savings of $1.2 million and laying off 50 administrative and support staffers from the district's headquarters on North Avenue to save about $600,000.

The district would have to agree with union officials on some of the furloughs, Russo said.

"The last thing you want to do is affect people, and that's why we've been trying to do everything else we can," she said yesterday. "We really don't have a choice because so much of our money is invested in salaries."

Another suggestion being made to the board is shifting the $10 million cost of new computer software to manage the school system's payroll from the operating budget to the capital budget. The district also hopes to renegotiate contracts with vendors to save an additional $3 million.

More than 200 temporary employees have been laid off for a savings of $2.6 million.

Yesterday, school officials also offered proposals on keeping next year's budget in line, including closing four to six schools; increasing class sizes by up to 10 percent; changing student schedules in middle and high schools; and trimming the cost of summer school by reducing the length of the session, limiting the number of students who attend or charging students a small fee.

In recent meetings with union officials, residents and education advocacy groups, Russo said the message came through loud and clear that furloughs are preferable to layoffs.

Smolarz and Russo also are suggesting to the board that top administrators -- including the two of them -- be furloughed for four days for a savings of about $100,000.

"The furlough option is the least painful because it spreads the wealth," Russo said. "It hurts a lot less than losing your job. It's a temporary situation, and people go back to their regular salary."

Russo said the system's declining enrollment would have called for staff reductions at some point.

The budget crisis "is forcing us to deal with a stark reality: The ratio of adults to students also has to be reduced as you lose enrollment," she said.

"Since I've gotten here, we've lost 9,000 to 10,000 students. These reductions in personnel, as painful as they may be, were something that we would have to look at sooner or later," she said.

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