Stadium School protests cuts

Independent Waverly school is thriving, advocates argue before city education officials


Parents, pupils and staff from the Stadium School in Baltimore turned out in force at a city school board meeting last night to demand that the school's budget not be cut.

"We're looking for a number of commitments from you," parent Jacquelyn Vincent told the board, speaking for more than 60 people from the school who were in the audience.

Stadium is a public school in Waverly that serves grades four through eight and operates independently. Its test scores in most areas are significantly higher than citywide averages.

The group said Stadium stands to have its budget for staff cut by 25 percent and its budget for supplies cut by 10 percent next school year. School system officials said those figures were overstated.

The protesters said the cuts would amount to the loss of three full-time teachers, resulting in larger class sizes and fewer intensive writing assignments and creative programs, such as seventh-grade debates on the death penalty. And they said funding for supplies is tight, with teachers and parents chipping in money. The school borrowed calculators for the state's standardized math tests and microscopes for science experiments from Morgan State University.

System officials insisted that they are not going to cut staff at any successful schools unless enrollment is declining. Stadium Principal Ron Shelley said the system was inaccurately projecting an enrollment decline at his school, where 207 pupils are enrolled. He expects 227 next school year. Douglass Austin, the system's chief of staff, said if enrollment is really 227, the school will gain a teacher.

The school, formed 12 years ago as the first small, independent city public school, has a waiting list.

The protest comes a month after principals at some of the city's highest-scoring elementary schools said publicly that they stand to lose staff next school year. Since then, the system has restored some positions.

Last night, the system's chief academic officer, Linda Chinnia, said school budgets are being finalized over the next few weeks.

Also this spring, the school board turned down a request for additional funding from New Song Academy, an elementary/middle school in Sandtown that, like Stadium, operates independently and has high test scores. New Song's principal has been raising $500,000 a year from private sources to pay all the staff she says her school needs.

Last night, the Stadium group maintained there is no reason for the cuts there, when the school system expects to see a 7 percent increase in revenue next school year, and the state and the city have budget surpluses.

In recent weeks, members of the Stadium community have been writing letters to city and school system officials outlining accomplishments of the school, which emphasizes project-based learning. Seventy-five letters were presented to the board last night. One letter that several parents have signed reads in part:

"You can find our zoo class educating other children visiting the Maryland Zoo about animal habitats. You can find our landscaping class building raised flower beds outside our school. ... Other classes are painting portraits of prominent African-Americans, publishing a magazine and learning to cook organic food through a cutting-edge nutrition program. ... Why cut us off at the knees when we have shown we are a city school that works? Why now, when we are everywhere doing good work?"

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