Task force to seek $2.8 billion for city school improvements

Rawlings-Blake, Alonso announce task force

November 22, 2010|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

A 10-member task force will analyze sources of revenue, legislative changes and financing options to pay for an estimated $2.8 billion in construction and improvements that are needed in Baltimore's public schools, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Monday.

"While we don't have a solution to address this shortfall today, one thing is clear — we can't do nothing," said Rawlings-Blake.

Many city schools lack functioning heating and air conditioning, and have windows that do not open and electrical systems that are unable to support computers and other devices, according to a report released in the summer by the American Civil Liberties Union, which called on the city to seek funding solutions for capital projects at schools.

City schools CEO Andrés Alonso said that over the past few decades, there has been a "tremendous neglect of the physical infrastructure of our schools."

"There is no question that the condition of the buildings affects the ability of our children to learn," said Alonso. "We have an obligation to transcend all barriers, financial and legal, to improve the condition of our schools."

The task force, which is almost entirely composed of city government and schools employees, has been asked to analyze how other states have paid for major improvements to school facilities and submit their findings to Rawlings-Blake in February.

The task force members will look at changing rules for seeking bonds, directing tax proceeds for school improvements and examining how school systems in Georgia and Greenville, S.C., paid for sweeping overhauls, officials said.

In Maryland, the state government subsidizes a portion of improvements to school systems and allocates money for improvements and repairs when local governments can demonstrate they are prepared to pay their share.

Bebe Verdery, education director for the ACLU of Maryland, said she applauded Rawlings-Blake for "laying out a very bold vision."

"She is taking on a project that has been so intractable for so long," said Verdery, who worked on the report released in the summer. "This is the first time I've heard [city officials] acknowledge the scope of the problem."

Task force members include Rawlings-Blake's chief of staff, Sophie Dagenais; city finance director Edward Gallagher; city solicitor George A. Nilson; and schools chief financial officer Mike Frist.

Also Monday, Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Councilman James B. Kraft announced that they had drafted a measure to create a dedicated source of funding for city schools, similar to the sustainability fund approved by voters earlier this month.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

twitter.com/juliemore

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