City offers compromise for charter school funds

5 schools OK $5,379-per-pupil proposal

some say they were forced into deal

June 25, 2005|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school board and several charter school operators struck a compromise yesterday over how much funding the independently operated schools should receive, enabling them to open this fall.

Some charter operators, who have argued for months that they are entitled to more public dollars, said they accepted the school board's latest offer because they need to complete contracts and prepare for the school year.

The agreements - which came after a dispute that went to the state school board - apply to the 2005-2006 school year and are likely to be renegotiated the next year.

Funding of charter schools became a hot-button issue in Maryland this year because nine charter schools are planning to open in the fall - the first wave of such schools since the state passed a charter school law in 2003.

In addition, seven existing schools in Baltimore have applied to convert to charter schools to become eligible for some additional federal funds.

Charter groups in Baltimore and Prince George's County appealed to the state school board after disagreements with their local school systems over funding and autonomy.

The state board ruled systems had to turn over to charter schools as much money as is spent on children in traditional public schools. It also directed charters to return a portion of that funding to systems for administrative services.

Baltimore and Prince George's County school officials appealed the state board's decision - fearing the ruling could make charter schools more expensive than anticipated.

Most charter operators in Baltimore had asked for $6,500 to $7,500 per pupil.

In the city school board's latest offer - which at least five schools have accepted - the system would pay charter schools $5,379 per pupil and provide employee benefits, which amount to $849 per pupil.

The board's original offer - which prompted an appeal to the state board - was $5,011 per pupil and required charter schools to pay for benefits.

The school board is expected to approve the charter contracts at its meeting Tuesday.

David Stone, who oversees charter schools for the school system, said he hopes most of the 12 planned charter schools - five new schools and the seven conversions -will have accepted the offer by then.

Alison Perkins-Cohen, executive director of the Baltimore Curriculum Project, said the three schools operated by her nonprofit group will do well with the proposed funding.

"We think it's a very fair offer," she said.

But others agreed to the funding offer more reluctantly.

Erika Brockman, director of Southwest Baltimore Charter School, said she felt the city school board had backed the charter schools into a corner. The board made its last offer Tuesday and gave charter operators 24 hours to accept. It later extended the deadline.

Brockman said she had no choice but to accept. "Less than 10 weeks remain before the beginning of the school year, and [Southwest Baltimore Charter School] can no longer ask its teachers, its students and their families, and the Southwest Baltimore community to continue waiting," she wrote to schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland.

Bobbi Macdonald, head of City Neighbors Charter School, said the lower amount means the Northeast Baltimore school cannot hire as many teachers as planned or a chef for a "whole foods" nutrition program.

But she tried to look on the bright side. "It's not good, but it's better than $5,011," she said.

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