Input sought on schools initiatives

City system wants public's view on which new programs to fund

December 20, 2005|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

As it develops its budget for next school year, the Baltimore school system is asking the public for input on which programs and new initiatives it should fund.

Schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland and her staff outlined last night a partial list of initiatives they would like to fund, recognizing that they will not able to afford many of them.

While the proposal includes $113 million in ideas, officials estimate they could have as little as $27 million in discretionary money to spend in the 2006-2007 school year. They say they expect to have $40 million to $50 million in discretionary money.

The vast majority of the system's $1.1 billion budget comes from fixed costs such as salaries for teachers and other personnel. Next school year, the system also must account for $42 million in salary increases negotiated with employee unions, $18 million in increased health care costs and $6 million increased utility costs.

The potential new initiatives include:

Expanding the Open Court reading program, already used in kindergarten through third grade, to prekindergarten and fourth and fifth grades.

Putting a new math curriculum in elementary schools.

Providing money for more substitute teachers to ensure classrooms are covered when teachers are absent.

Establishing a student government at every middle school.

Hiring more social workers.

Hiring 134 additional custodians and 24 supervisors to improve school cleanliness.

The school system will hold public forums over the next two months to hear which of these ideas parents, students, teachers and others believe should be the highest funding priorities.

Copeland is to present her budget recommendations in March to the school board, which will vote on a spending plan in April for submission to the mayor and City Council.

System administrators said last night that they're seeking public input far earlier in the budget process than in previous years.

Douglass Austin, the system's chief of staff, said officials will be able to better incorporate what the public wants if they hear the opinions now. "There's always been public input," he said. "The question is: How meaningful is it?"

The system plans to post the proposed initiatives on its Web site, baltimorecityschools.org, and has set up an e-mail address - budget@bcps.k12.md.us - to accept comments.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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