Officials submit financial plans for city schools' recovery to judge

They say fiscal crisis won't harm learning

April 09, 2004|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

State, city and Baltimore school system officials delivered financial plans this week to Circuit Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan in an effort to assure him that the education of the city's 90,000 children will not suffer while a fiscal crisis is being resolved.

Kaplan released copies of the fiscal accountability plans yesterday but declined to comment. A hearing to discuss the plans as they relate to a decade-old court case is scheduled for Wednesday.

Ten years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union and others representing city children filed a lawsuit against the state seeking more money for Baltimore schools. The result was a 1996 consent decree that established a partnership between the city and the state to oversee the schools. The partnership was designed to keep one thing paramount - the welfare of the city's schoolchildren.

As the city school system struggles through a $58 million accumulated deficit and a crushing cash flow problem, Kaplan - and U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis - reminded city, state and school officials last month that any plans to deal with the financial emergency needed to keep that partnership's mission in mind.

Garbis oversees a 20-year-old special education case against the school system.

For the most part, the city and school system documents delivered to the court this week outline the fiscal recovery plans announced last month as part of a city-financed $42 million loan package to the schools.

However, ACLU officials said the financial plans given to Kaplan and Garbis are thin.

"Little detail is provided to assure us that the students and their academic progress won't be hurt as the fiscal situation is stabilized," said Bebe Verdery, education reform director. "And that's something we're looking forward to talking with the judges about."

School system attorneys told Kaplan and Garbis that they have made concerted efforts to reduce costs with minimal impact on student learning.

As an example, officials said in their court filing that some layoffs of school personnel this academic year took place between semesters and new teachers were transferred into those schools before the next semester began. "It should also be noted that [school officials] elected not to adjust class-size during the school year," the school system officials said in court papers.

The state's documents include an annual report on the city schools' progress from state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

In that report, Grasmick says that layoffs and cutbacks will more than likely have an effect in classrooms unless the system operates more efficiently.

"The challenge for management is to redesign the remaining core administrative structure so that it will effectively support reform efforts in the schools," Grasmick wrote. "If that can be accomplished and the current fiscal situation stabilized, there is every reason to believe that a focused academic program will continue to improve the achievement of the Baltimore City students."

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