Judges seek details on fixing city schools crisis

In meeting, officials' plans are deemed inadequate

April 15, 2004|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Two judges pressed state, city and school system officials yesterday to provide more details by the end of next month about how they intend to fix a financial crisis in the Baltimore schools without affecting students' education.

Circuit Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan and U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis met with the officials, as well as representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, to discuss financial plans that each group delivered to the court last week. At the private meeting, the judges, who oversee separate cases involving city schools, agreed with a letter the ACLU sent to the court this week calling the plans "wholly inadequate," participants said.

"The judges were clearly very concerned that the state was not in compliance with [the] June 2000 order to give the school system more money," ACLU of Maryland Executive Director Susan Goering said. Kaplan "also was very concerned that he and the plaintiffs - the ACLU-represented schoolchildren - hadn't gotten enough information to decide if [the school system] would be able to address the fiscal crisis without hurting the children."

As the city school system struggles through a $58 million deficit and a crushing cash-flow problem, Kaplan and Garbis have been adamant that the quality of education be left unscathed.

"They really wanted to press for more specifics about what programs we will continue next year and what programs we might not continue next year," school system Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland said.

Copeland said the school system is developing next year's budget, which will detail projected costs of old and new programs and initiatives.

School officials hope to deliver the proposed budget to the judges Tuesday, Copeland said. The city school board is scheduled to approve the budget April 27.

Copeland said that because the school system is expecting 2,000 fewer students next year - as well as an influx of $51 million in new state money from the so-called Thornton plan - she is hopeful that efforts to reduce the deficit will have a minimal effect on classrooms.

Students from the Baltimore Algebra Project, a tutoring program, asked the state to immediately provide the schools with an extra $110 million. They had been invited to the meeting by Kaplan because of their interest in the schools' financial crisis.

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