Official defends allocations for schools

Top sites' resources won't fund those failing, he says

April 10, 2006|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

The chairman of the Baltimore school board said last night that the school system is not taking away resources from successful schools to fund failing ones, and he contended that the system remains underfunded by the state.

Brian D. Morris released a statement saying the system is meeting a state mandate by targeting extra money to 54 low-performing schools. But the statement did not speak directly to the complaints of principals from some high-performing schools who say resources are being taken away from them.

The statement called a state claim that the system is adequately funded "unconscionable."

Morris' comments came as the state Senate prepares to vote today on whether to override Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s veto of a bill imposing a one-year moratorium on outside takeovers of 11 Baltimore schools. The House of Delegates voted Saturday to override the veto. In the Senate, the original vote on the legislation was 30-17, one vote more than necessary to override.

In recent days, city officials have been scrambling to ensure that no senators change their vote, while state officials have been lobbying against the override.

Morris' statement said that The Sun, which published an article yesterday about proposed cuts at some successful elementary schools, has "once again ... misled the public with incorrect information about the status of Baltimore City Public Schools." The statement specifically criticized the headline that accompanied the article.

Last month, the state school board authorized takeovers of 11 city schools that have failed to meet state standards since at least 1997, the first such action in the nation taken under the No Child Left Behind Act. The city school board is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a budget for next school year that would allocate an additional $22 million for its lowest-performing schools, including the 11 targeted for takeover.

At the same time, principals of some of the city's successful elementary schools have said they stand to lose staff next school year. Morris' statement said that "our smaller schools and our high-performing schools will have at least the same staff as they have had in prior years, based on the number of students in their schools."

At least three principals have said they are slated to lose teachers because of declining enrollment, a trend in schools throughout the city. The system allocates staff to its schools according to a complex formula designating a certain number of teachers for a given number of students.

In one case, at Garrett Heights Elementary, Principal Yetty Goodin said the system at least initially underprojected her enrollment for next school year, leaving her with a budget allotment for three fewer teachers. In another case, at Thomas Johnson Elementary, Principal James R. Sasiadek said the system backed out on a commitment to provide funding to add sixth grade to the building, costing the school three teaching positions.

City school system officials have acknowledged that, under No Child Left Behind, schools lose some funding sources when they become successful. As one successful city school that operates independently, New Song Academy, struggles to survive, there has been debate in recent weeks over whether schools that overcome obstacles to produce high performance should be rewarded.

Morris' statement did not address the system's plans to eliminate assistant principals at all schools with enrollment lower than 300 and to allocate literacy and math coaches to schools based on the number of students failing state tests, a move that would leave some schools that currently have the coaches without them.

The system is slated to receive a 7 percent increase in revenue next school year, giving it more money per pupil than any other school district in the state except Montgomery County, according to state education officials. In his statement, Morris said "The simple but sad truth is Baltimore City Public Schools are NOT adequately funded."

In 2004, Circuit Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan ruled that the state had unlawfully underfunded city schools by $400 million to $800 million since 2000.

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick could not immediately be reached for comment last night.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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