Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

March 22, 2003

Budget cuts could devastate Coppin students

The events of the past few weeks bring to my mind the words of Charles Dickens: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

On March 3, I had the honor of assuming the presidency of Coppin State College, one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious historically black colleges. The opportunity to lead this institution and help Coppin realize its potential as a national leader in urban education represents a personal and professional high point.

Little more than a week later, however, came the news that the University System of Maryland, already grappling with enormous budget cuts, faces the possibility of an additional $37 million reduction.

While this will certainly have negative ramifications for all USM institutions, it is especially alarming for Coppin. Historically, Coppin State has received the smallest percentage of the funds allocated to USM institutions. And budget reductions of any size have a disproportionate impact on an institution of Coppin's size.

The proposed reductions are all the more devastating when you consider that most of our students are the first members of their families to attend college, and more than 85 percent of them depend on some form of financial assistance.

If budget cuts render Coppin unable to serve these students, their opportunity for a college degree will disappear -- for these students, other opportunities simply do not exist.

And the possible budget cuts are particularly disheartening in light of the agreement recently entered into between Maryland and the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. With this agreement, Maryland acknowledged its historic underfunding of historically black institutions in general, with special emphasis on Coppin State College. The proposed cuts could take the state out of compliance with this agreement.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has recognized Coppin's considerable needs by recommending an increase in funds for capital projects. It would be cruelly inconsistent if these needed improvements to our facilities were undone because Coppin has no money to operate the new facilities.

Yet this may be the result if the General Assembly approves the recommended budget reductions.

Stanley Battle

Baltimore

The writer is president of Coppin State College.

Port Discovery deal aids city, museum

I believe the public should hear the side of the story that the article "For school, city rents back a $1 museum for $540,000" (March 15) misses -- the reasons that Port Discovery's plan to lease space within the museum building for the National Academy Foundation High School is the highest and best use of our building for the students and families of Baltimore and Maryland.

In addition to city and state contributions, the private-sector backers of Port Discovery invested over $20 million to transform our current location (the Fish Market building) from a derelict shell to its current beautiful condition.

The fact that tenants put substantial investments into a property, capital and otherwise, should grant them some of the future benefits of that space. And the schools are getting a double share of the "profits." They are getting below-market rent in an ideal location.

The article cites a $9-per-square-foot cost, but that includes the cost of utilities, a cost a school pays no matter where it's located. Minus utilities, the cost for the space averages a little more than $6 per square foot.

At the same time, the schools will be supporting Port Discovery, an important nonprofit institution that serves Maryland's children.

By integrating the resources of a children's museum with public education, the NAF Academy will expose students to challenges and opportunities such as internships, job shadowing and service learning that will help prepare them for their careers. The Market Place location is ideal for them, because it offers the students safe and easy access to local businesses and attractions, with the subway right at their doorstep.

Port Discovery is a nonprofit children's museum that truly adds value and quality of life to our community. We are not looking to pocket funds at the taxpayers' expense or keep something alive that has no reason to exist.

We simply want to remain where we are and continue serving the children and families of our community through our internationally recognized, award-winning museum.

Why not help us build upon these assets instead of trying to tear them down?

Alan Leberknight

Baltimore

The writer is president and CEO of Port Discovery.

Restoring confidence in the city schools

When the city schools' budget problems unfolded, there did not seem to be enough fingers around to point blame.

Citizens blamed the school board, board members blamed the school administration and the administration blamed a lack of good information as well as staff turnover.

As someone involved in the legislation to restructure the city schools in 1997, I know additional steps must be taken to ensure greater accountability.

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