City school seeks more money

New Song asks for funds to keep classes small


With one week to go before the Baltimore school board votes on the city schools' budget for the 2006-2007 school year, supporters of New Song Academy in Sandtown held a rally yesterday and bombarded politicians with phone calls seeking additional funding.

New Song is an independently run public elementary and middle school that has been successful in educating children from one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. But the school does not receive enough money from the city school system to keep class sizes small and give pupils the support they need. Principal Susan Tibbels has been raising $500,000 a year, much of that to pay staff salaries, but she's finding the pace impossible to sustain.

About 150 parents, children, staff and supporters stood outside New Song on Presstman Street yesterday during a brief reprieve from the early afternoon rain. School officials announced the formation of a panel of financial experts - including the vice chairman of Mercantile Bank and a Towson University economics instructor - who will review the city school system's proposed budget and identify areas where it could allocate more for New Song.

The school is asking for what amounts to $355,740 more than it received this school year. The system gave New Song $4,876 per pupil this year; Tibbels is seeking $7,571 next year.

After yesterday's rally, city schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland reiterated that she plans to ask the school board to fund one additional full-time job at New Song and one part-time job. That would give the school 17.5 staff positions next year, compared with 16 this year. Copeland has said it would be unfair to other schools for the system to give New Song more than that.

Tibbels counters that Copeland is proposing $22 million in the budget to give more resources to failing schools, but that there are no incentives for schools that are successful. She said she needs the system to pay for 23 staff salaries.

New Song has 132 pupils, with no more than 15 to a class. Ninety-two percent of the school's fifth-graders passed last year's state reading test.

In addition to the rally, New Song's supporters conducted a "phone-a-thon" yesterday, where they called, e-mailed and faxed letters to politicians asking for help. City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., who chairs the council's Education Committee, and State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy pledged their support.

Fourth-grader Asaan Glover, 10, called Mayor Martin O'Malley's office. He didn't get through to the mayor, he said, but if he did, "I would tell him it's horrible they would do this to New Song. If I was the mayor, which I'm gonna be when I grow up, I would help every school."

O'Malley met last week with leaders from New Song and the city school system. His spokeswoman, Raquel Guillory, said the mayor asked system officials to look into why New Song's public funding has decreased in recent years, and to look for other sources of revenue for the school.

"The mayor recognizes the important work that's being done at New Song," Guillory said.

Copeland said yesterday that the system has committed to helping New Song apply for money from a grant for after-school programs because the school has an extended day. "We'll pull out all the stops to help them with that," she said.

After the publication of an article about the school in The Sun last week, Tibbels said, New Song has received about 20 contributions of up to $1,000 each. It has gotten two inquiries from people interested in making substantial donations, she said.

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has had her staff looking for additional state funds for the school.

The private Gilman School, which was already sending students to tutor at New Song, established a more formal partnership with the school last week, Tibbels said. Gilman faculty will join with New Song staff for a summer program designed to help New Song's middle-school pupils learn algebra, and the two schools will hold programs together throughout the year.

Despite the outpouring of support, Tibbels said New Song needs a reliable funding stream from year to year to pay staff salaries, and only the school system can provide that. She said the money the school is seeking from the system would only cover salaries. Even if the request is granted in full, she will still need to raise money for a program for 3-year-olds and "extras" she wants, like a library and a high school.

The school board is scheduled to vote April 11 on the budget for next school year.

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