City school board approves $1.3 billion budget

School board members call for greater transparency for budget process

May 25, 2011|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore school board approved Tuesday a $1.3 billion budget for next year that gives principals less discretion over spending and allows city schools CEO Andrés Alonso to implement a central office reorganization.

The fiscal year 2012 budget will increase by $82 million, most of which is designated for specific uses, school officials said. Expenses, notably salaries and fringe benefits, would rise.

While the amount of money being allocated to schools will increase by $11 million, the amount of "flexible funds" — money allocated to principals to staff their schools and provide resources for their students — will decrease by 4 percent.

Alonso called the budget the most difficult that he's ever done, though not as radical as in previous years. He added that safeguarding schools from budget crunches "had gotten really tight in a context where many things were growing in cost." He added that operating revenue has remained flat, while enrollment has increased.

Along with approving the budget by a 7-2 vote, city school board members also approved a reorganization of the central office that will fill a $175,000 deputy CEO position that Alonso created in 2009. In addition, the district will hire 15 executive directors who will be responsible for coaching and evaluating principals. The directors will be hired at grant-funded salaries of $125,000.

The decision to create the director positions has been opposed by the principals union president, who said they are unnecessary when principals are cutting staff. But city school advocates spoke in support of the move, saying it would alleviate the pressure of two people being responsible for principals in 200 schools.

"It's impossible for two people to be [responsible for] 200 principals at a time when principals are under tremendous pressure," said Bishop Douglas Miles, co-chair of Baltimoreans United in Leadership.

Alonso will also triple the number of people in school support "networks," which he created in 2009 to act as liaisons between schools and the central office.

The network expansion to more than 150 support staff came at the expense of 89 currently filled central office positions that have been eliminated. The elimination cut the central office budget by $3.6 million this year, even though the number of administrative positions has grown by nine since last year.

Bill Bleich, an English teacher at Polytechnic Institute, voiced his concerns at the meeting Tuesday about the expansion of the networks as Poly looks to cut nine teaching positions next year. He told Alonso that while networks may "go around helping principals, they don't do any work in the classroom."

"We're talking about increasing the number of people who have bureaucratic positions," he said.

During a lengthy debate, city school board members expressed concern about the lack of public engagement during the budget process and noted that members had received the full budget booklet, including an extensive reorganization plan, on Friday.

Members asked that the district give a full presentation on the reorganization at its next meeting.

The city's Parent Community Advisory Board, which received a presentation from Alonso on Thursday, presented its recommendations about an hour before the budget was passed.

Melanie Hood-Wilson, who spoke on behalf of the group, expressed concerns about funding cuts. She said the group recommended restoring $500 per pupil to the additional funding that schools receive for basic and advanced students, and decreasing the number of executive directors from 15 to 10.

The board approved the school budget timeline that was followed this year, but said that it would change next year.

"I feel very derelict about not hearing enough from the people whose money we are spending," said school Commissioner David Stone, who voted against the budget because of the process. Shanaysha Sauls, echoing his concerns, also voted against it.

Alonso said he understands that the budget process will have to be done differently, even though several streams of revenue, including the state and city budgets, were not determined until April.

"The budget process for 2013 starts tomorrow," Alonso said.

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