Rising cost of energy hits city schools

April 13, 2005|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school board voted last night to spend a third of the school system's $9 million rainy-day fund to cover an unforeseen rise in energy costs.

The cost of heating oil has increased from less than a dollar per gallon last school year to $1.44, school officials said.

"This is certainly something we could not have projected, the really radical increase in our oil, electric and heating prices," said Chief Financial Officer Rose Piedmont.

The school board has dipped into its rainy-day fund before. Late last year, the system used $1 million of the then-$10 million fund to hire more school personnel and buy security equipment for several middle and high schools beset by a rash of arson fires and violence.

In other business, the board scheduled a public meeting for Saturday to discuss charter school contracts after delaying a vote on the legal documents that would enable the operators of five planned charter schools to begin leasing and constructing buildings and hiring staff.

Bobbi Macdonald, president of City Neighbors Charter School in Northeast Baltimore, said she is concerned her school might not be able to open five months from now. "Our school is in jeopardy if we're delayed any further," Macdonald said.

Approval of the contracts has been delayed because of a disagreement between the school system and charter operators over how much public money charter schools should receive per pupil. The schools will be funded by taxpayer dollars and held to state performance standards but will have autonomy in areas such as whom they hire and how they teach.

Operators had asked for at least $7,500 per child in addition to services provided by the system, but the system wants to offer more services and about $5,000 per pupil. The system spends about $10,000 a year per child in its regular schools.

One charter group has appealed the city school board's handling of the contracts to the State Board of Education. The other four groups have petitioned the board to urge the city to act more quickly.

City board member Kenneth Jones said he hopes it will be able to vote on the contracts by the end of Saturday's meeting.

"Time is of the essence for these people," he said.

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