City school board approves student funding

Schools to receive more based funding, less flexibility

May 10, 2011|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore City schools will receive more per-pupil funding next school year but will have less flexibility in how they spend it under the first phase of 2012 budget recommendations approved by the city school board Tuesday.

The board approved school funding recommendations made by city schools CEO Andrés Alonso, which included a $56 per-pupil increase in base funding from last year to $5,000 per pupil. The city's charter schools will receive roughly $9,300 per pupil.

The district's school-based funding, which allows principals to have autonomy over their individual budgets, will increase by nearly $11 million next year; however, the amount of flexible dollars that drives the school system's Fair Student Funding model will decrease by about 5 percent. Principals use the flexible dollars to pay for programs and staff.

The lack of flexible funds at the school level this year is primarily due to an increase in salaries and fringe benefits.

The per-pupil increase means that additional funds known as "student weights" will be cut. The amount of additional funding that schools will receive for the number of students who score basic and advanced on the Maryland School Assessments will decrease by about $500. However, funding levels will remain the same for special education students and high schools that receive dropout prevention funds.

"If we were trying to protect the bulk of our students, we had to protect [base funding] first," said Michael Frist, chief financial officer for the school system.

The board approved Tuesday a 15 percent cap on how much school budgets can lose and a 10 percent cap on how much they can gain.

In a presentation to the board Tuesday night, Alonso offered a preliminary look at a $1.3 billion operating budget for next year, up from the $1.23 billion plan that the school board passed last year. The full budget document will not be released until May 20.

The budget increase, school officials said, is primarily due to a nearly $60 million increase in funds that are designated for specific use, including nearly $11 million in federal Race to the Top money that will support performance-based pay for city teachers under their new contract.

School board members welcomed the increase of revenue, particularly the reforms under the Race to the Top funding, but worried about the district positioning itself to tie its work to a limited amount of funds. This year, the city lost more than $80 million in federal money that funded critical programs for struggling schools.

"As a system, I don't want us to be planning things that we can't pay for later," said Shanaysha Sauls, a city school board member.

The school system also grew by nearly 1,300 students.

The district's largest revenue source is the state, which funds roughly 67 percent of the school system's budget and granted the city a $6 million increase this year. The city of Baltimore also maintained its level of funding and helped to support the school system's $40.8 million in retiree health benefits.

Salaries and wages account for more than half of the planned expenses, with fringe benefits the second-largest expense. New contracts for city teachers and administrators this year will be a $16 million expense, the bulk of which will be paid by schools.

Earlier versions of this article incorrectly reported how much city charter schools could receive per pupil under the approved 2012 budget recommendations. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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