City school board narrowly approves $1 billion budget

Spending plan relaxes current year's restrictions

April 27, 2005|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school board narrowly approved a $1 billion budget last night that relaxes the current year's spending restrictions, after administrators made minor changes in response to community concerns.

The board voted 5-2 in favor of schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland's spending proposal. Board members George Van Hook and James Campbell opposed the plan but did not discuss their reasons.

The budget, which provides a blueprint for how the system spends its operating dollars, is 5 percent larger than the current school year's budget because of an anticipated influx of state aid.

It includes $6 million in new spending to reduce class sizes, particularly in kindergarten and grades four and five, after two years of increasing class sizes; $14 million to add school-based employees to understaffed schools; $5.6 million to update textbooks; and $1.4 million to support parent involvement in schools.

The budget is scheduled to be submitted this week to the mayor and City Council, who have final approval.

After hearing concerns from the public at two budget hearings, Copeland altered her proposal by adding three employees to serve as liaisons with parents and expanding summer school programs to include second-graders, who had been left out.

But several parent advocates said they still felt the public's concerns were not fully addressed.

Michael P. Carter, president of the Parent and Community Advisory Board, urged the school board - to no avail - to delay its vote on the budget until all questions posed by parents could be answered.

Board member Kalman R. "Buzzy" Hettleman made an unsuccessful last-ditch attempt to thwart a summer school plan that would serve only pupils at certain schools and in certain grade levels. He said the system has a "moral imperative" to make summer school available to all students. If it cannot afford to do so, programs should target the academically neediest pupils first, he said.

The discussion surrounding summer school grew heated at times.

"I can't accept your `moral' comment. I resent it," board member Kenneth Jones told Hettleman.

Jones, one of the more veteran board members, said the system became mired in financial troubles in the past by overspending on programs such as summer school.

Opening summer school to all children "is absolutely unachievable," in the current fiscal climate, Jones said.

A motion by Hettleman to postpone a decision on summer school fell two votes short of the five needed to pass.

During yesterday's lengthy meeting, the board also approved shifting funds to cover $3.4 million in unforeseen transportation, maintenance and repair costs.

And the board heard a presentation by Chief Academic Officer Linda Chinnia about a major reorganization of her department. Under the new structure, which will go into effect July 1, special education will fall under Chinnia's responsibility.

Chinnia and Gayle Amos, the current administrator who oversees special education, said the change is an effort to place a greater emphasis on the instruction special education students receive.

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