The first public hearing on Baltimore city schools’ $1.3 billion budget takes place tonight before the school board of commissioners. With fewer federal dollars available for the 2013-2014 school year, the proposed budget calls for some cuts and shifting of resources.
Baltimore city school officials expect to lose at least $23 million dollars in federal funding next year. Some federal grants are ending, plus, school officials are still not sure how sequestration will affect federal funding levels. Schools spokesman Michael Sarbanes says they’ve been here before.
It’s always a tight budget. There’s always way more that we want to do than we’re able to do. But this is a budget that really tries to make sure schools can continue to do what they need to do because they’re the ones closest to the kids and can have the biggest impact.
Because of rising transportation, employee benefits and other costs, Sarbanes says city schools needed an additional $15 million to continue operating at current levels. Sarbanes says they plan to get that money, mainly by cutting back on temporary and other contractual employees.
Staff at the district office will pick-up those responsibilities, so that is a lot of where the reductions have been made at the district office in order for us to make it possible to keep schools whole and do the strategic investments like in pre-K.
The budget calls for an expansion of the district’s pre-k program, which Sarbanes says has been highly effective. According to their figures, the number of pre-k students who enter school kindergarten-ready, jumped from 58 percent in 2007 to 78 percent this year.
What we’re seeing is that children that are going through our pre-k programs are significantly more ready than those who are not when they get to kindergarten and it carries through to fifth grade.
Next year’s proposed budget also includes funds to expand programs for advanced students and to create a team to upgrade science courses. There’s also funding to hire a manager to oversee the district’s school building plan and a school climate director to make schools more student-friendly.
Baltimore teacher’s union president Marietta English is not sure hiring a climate director in times of federal budget cuts is such a good idea.
We do have a director who works with school safety. It seems to me that would fall under the same department. So I mean if you write a grant for such a position, that’s fine.
English has no problems with the district hiring a construction manager or expanding pre-k and science offerings. However, she is concerned that some other student programs may be cut, given the reduction in available dollars.
Hopefully teachers will be really creative and be able to develop programs to supplement those programs ordinarily funded and they might be able to find funding through grants that are out there.
But overall, English is optimistic about the proposed budget, because she says it doesn’t call for cuts of teachers and individual schools won’t lose funding next year.
It seems as if they made preparations for schools to be funded at current levels. We will be keeping our eyes on it to make sure we are able to sustain our programs and sustain the things we need to happen in our schools.
Also watching the process closely is James Gittings, president of the principal’s association. He says he has not heard anything to be overly concerned about, but he will follow the public hearings. The first one takes place tonight at 5:30. A second one will be held on May 7, with a vote by the board scheduled for May 14.