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City School Board Green Lights 2015 Budget

Groupuscule via Wikimedia Commons

Baltimore City school board members approved a $1.3 billion budget for the next school year at Tuesday night’s meeting.

But the vote was not unanimous. Two board members, vice chair David Stone and Lisa Akchin, voted against the budget. Akchin described the no-layoffs budget as fiscally responsible and responsive to residents’ concerns “at this time, in this year,” but said she was “concerned that we have not done enough in this budget cycle to address growth in enrollment. “And we have many years ahead with a lot of financial challenges,” she added. “That’s been a missed opportunity in this cycle.”

Acting Superintendent Tisha Edwards initially proposed cutting $265,000 from two programs for gifted students—Ingenuity Project and International Baccalaureate. But that money was restored after public hearings in which some board and city council members, as well as residents, objected.

Board vice chair David Stone, who also voted against the budget, said he’s glad the money was restored, but added that the intention has never been for the school district to fund those programs indefinitely. “There was nothing nefarious about this because there are documents from past years that clearly say that this money would be gradually removed from these programs. We told you this years ago,” Stone said. “The board needs to have a conversation about the role of the central office in administering some of these programs in the future.”

According to school officials, 80 percent of the budget will go to actual schools and not to pay for things such as transportation, building maintenance and administrative costs. They say this is the highest level of funding ever to be approved by the board for schools.

Edwards, whose appointment expires at the end of June, said she thinks the budget passed by the board reflects feedback they received from the community. “This has been a really healthy dialogue and it’s the exact conversation we should have had. This is one of the most important decisions the board has to make,” Edwards said. “We need to be working with the community on how we strengthen the process of democracy (in the future)…so that the budgets that are coming to the board for approval reflect what parents want.”

Milwaukee superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton takes over as the district’s CEO July 1. Victor de La Paz, the school district’s chief financial officer, told board members that Thornton has been kept in the loop on next year’s budget. “He’s had an opportunity to ask questions about the drivers of revenue and the drivers of expenses and his questions were answered,” said de La Paz.

The budget now goes to the City Council for approval.