Baltimore schools debate spending windfall

February 09, 2007|By Sara Neufeld and Brent Jones | Sara Neufeld and Brent Jones,sun reporters

Baltimore school officials plan to include extra money in the budget for the 2007-2008 academic year to increase hall monitors, establish night classes for failing middle school students and create more in-school suspension programs.

Officials said last night that the city school system is projecting an $87 million funding increase, mostly from the state's Thornton legislation, which is providing an influx of funding to all public schools in Maryland. That will bring the system's general fund to $1.03 billion.

But $68 million of the $87 million is needed to cover salary increases, utility increases and other fixed costs, leaving $19 million for discretionary funding.

About 50 people attended a budget hearing last night at school system headquarters - another step in a monthslong process to approve the system's budget for the coming year. Speakers urged the school board to use the extra money to expand after-school programs, school safety initiatives and nutrition and mental health programs.

Advocates for "community schools," those linking students and their families with a variety of social services, asked for $2 million to bring their concepts to 20 more schools. This school year, 27 schools became community schools, funded primarily by city government.

School board member Kalman "Buzzy" Hettleman said the budget is going to be "extremely tight" and that he wants to base spending decisions on evaluations of which programs work.

Interim Chief Executive Officer Charlene Cooper Boston said she wants to spend about $2 million of the discretionary money to cover the cost of new textbooks.

A new fund of $1.5 million would aid failing high schools. Another $1.5 million would be spent on middle school reform, including the addition of "lead teachers" and creation of "small learning communities" to give students more personal attention.

Boston said money will be available to create mobile science labs and more library resources at elementary schools expanding to serve sixth through eighth grades.

Seventy-five hall monitors who work part time would become full time and be given health benefits, at a cost of $2.3 million.

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