Schools unveil budget

$1.2 billion city plan targets class size, middle schools

March 14, 2007|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun Reporter

Class sizes would get smaller at some Baltimore elementary schools and middle schools would be reconfigured to create more personalized environments under a budget proposal unveiled last night by interim city schools Chief Executive Officer Charlene Cooper Boston.

The proposed $1.2 billion budget for 2007-2008 outlines dozens of new initiatives, including hiring more staff members to monitor truancy, expanding in-school suspension programs and adding pre-kindergarten classes at eight schools.

Boston's proposal calls for a $78 million increase over the current school year's budget, largely as a result of money the school system is receiving from the state's Thornton legislation for public school funding. Meanwhile, the system projects that its enrollment will continue to decline next school year, meaning there will be more money per student.

Much of the additional revenue would be used to cover salary increases and other increasing costs, such as utilities, Boston said yesterday afternoon.

In the costliest initiative, worth $7 million, the system would change the formula it uses to calculate teacher-student ratios in elementary schools, resulting in smaller classes, particularly in small schools, Boston said. Instead of assigning teachers to a school based on its total enrollment, the system would assign teachers based on the enrollment of each grade level.

The budget summary outlines how $31 million in new discretionary funds would be spent. But several of the new initiatives would be funded with existing money, and the document does not outline what programs would be cut in their place.

John Walker, the system's chief financial officer, said information will be made available on Monday, when the system plans to post its full budget proposal on its Web site.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget March 27.

If adopted by the school board, the budget would continue the system's reform of its troubled middle schools. Plans are under way to close about two-thirds of the system's large middle schools in the next few years and move students to expanded elementary schools serving pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Boston proposes dividing the nine large middle schools that would remain into "smaller learning communities." The system has broken up many of its large high schools into several small schools. The large middle schools would remain intact, but clusters of teachers and students would work together under the direction of a "lead teacher." The system would spend $1.5 million to hire 27 new lead teachers.

Each of the nine middle schools would receive a new staff member to run anti-truancy and parent involvement initiatives.

Michael Carter, chairman of the system's Parent and Community Advisory Board, said the budget proposal doesn't go nearly far enough to address the "monster problems" of the city's middle schools. He also said it doesn't expand pre-kindergarten enough to serve all city children living in poverty, as the state required school systems to do in exchange for increased funding.

For the elementary schools expanding to serve sixth through eighth grades, the budget proposal includes $636,000 to update libraries with materials appropriate for middle school students.

Another initiative, worth $1.5 million, would place math and literacy specialists in the extended elementary schools to help teachers with specialized material for middle school students. The City Council's education committee held a hearing last month over concerns that the extended elementary schools aren't getting adequate funding to serve middle school students.

Boston's budget allocates $1.3 million for new high school chemistry textbooks and materials and $1 million for new textbooks and materials for a technology course that students must take to graduate from high school.

It includes $1.9 million for signing bonuses for teachers who are "highly qualified" - certified with subject-area expertise - under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Walker said bonuses would range from $2,000 to $12,000, depending on the subject a teacher specializes in, whether the assignment is in a high-poverty school and how far in advance the teacher makes a commitment to work in the city schools.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

Highlights

The city school system's proposed $1.2 billion budget includes money for the following:

About $7 million to reduce class size in elementary schools

About $1.3 million for high school chemistry books and materials.

About $1.9 million for signing bonuses for certain teachers.

About $1.5 million to hire 27 new "lead" teachers for reorganized middle schools.

About $636,000 to update libraries for middle school students.

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