School board approves budget

Plan includes $22 million for struggling facilities

successful sites wary of losing staff

April 12, 2006|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

The lowest-performing schools in Baltimore - including the 11 that were targeted by the state for takeovers - will receive $22 million for lower class sizes, teacher mentors and other reforms, under a budget proposal for the coming school year approved by the city school board last night.

The $1.1 billion budget includes $42 million to cover salary increases for nearly all school system employees, including a 5 percent raise for teachers and paraprofessionals.

The $22 million will go to the city's 54 lowest-performing schools. The state school board voted last month to order outside takeovers of 11 of those schools, but the General Assembly imposed a one-year moratorium on the action.

While the budget represents a 7 percent, or $78 million, increase in funding for city schools, principals of some successful elementary schools have said they stand to lose staff as the system puts more resources into failing schools.

School board Chairman Brian D. Morris issued a statement Sunday night saying the system is not taking resources away from successful schools to fund failing ones. But since then, more principals have come forward to say they are facing cuts.

Irma Johnson, principal of Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary School, said she is slated to lose two classroom teachers next school year, even though her enrollment is not projected to decline. She said she was given no explanation for the cut. If it stands, she said, she will be forced to increase average class sizes from 24 to 28 children.

School board member Kalman R. "Buzzy" Hettleman said last night, "We are not taking money away from successful schools. ... The money that goes to low-performing schools is above and beyond money that goes to all schools."

The school system has not made public its planned staffing allocations for individual schools. Staff is allocated based on a complex formula designating a certain number of teachers for a given number of students. Officials have said the staffing allocations would change after the approval of the budget.

A group of parents, staff and pupils from New Song Academy spoke at last night's school board meeting, appealing unsuccessfully for more money for the West Baltimore school, which runs independently and has produced high tests scores among some of the city's poorest children. The school's principal has been raising $500,000 a year to keep New Song operating, but she says that pace is impossible to sustain.

Board members told New Song supporters that it would be unfair to give their school more public dollars than others. Member Diane Bell McKoy said she would be happy to help the school continue its private fundraising.

It was unclear last night how the system's budget would be affected by a long list of reforms ordered by the state school board last month, including the implementation of a proven curriculum in core subjects in city middle and high schools.

The start of the new school year July 1 will mark the first time in seven years that the system has operated without a deficit. The budget assumes that the school system's enrollment will continue to decline next year to about 84,000 students, down from 85,000 enrolled this year and 110,000 a decade ago.

Two-thirds of the school system's budget comes from the state. Another 19 percent comes from the city, while 11 percent comes from the federal government and 3 percent comes from other sources. Seventy percent of the budget is spent on salaries and benefits.

The budget will now be sent to Mayor Martin O'Malley and the City Council for final approval.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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