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Mayor pitches $180M for schools over 3 years

Rachel Baye

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh announced Friday a joint plan with the state to help fill the city school system’s budget gap with $180 million over three years. The plan needs to be approved by the full legislature and Gov. Larry Hogan.

The money does not completely fill the school system’s anticipated $130 million structural deficit, an amount that accounts for roughly 10 percent of the schools’ budget.

Under the proposal, the state would put in about $32 million, with the city providing another $22 million this year.

But in a statement, Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said the money puts the system in a stronger position to deal with the hole.

“My team and I are now analyzing the details of the plan announced today and its implications for schools, as well as determining the extent of the remaining budget gap and the options for closing it while maximizing resources in support of priorities for our students,” she said.

Previously Santelises has said staff layoffs may be in the mix.

On Friday, Pugh told Baltimore’s House delegation that everyone is going to have to make sacrifices for the sake of the schools, including teachers.

“We’re, as you well know, in negotiations as it relates to the teachers union,” she said. “And everybody’s going to have to give a little if we’re going to get to where we need to go.”

A Baltimore Teachers Union spokeswoman said the union is still reviewing the details of Friday’s announcement. In a statement, the union said it is generally happy that the officials are working to fill the budget gap.

“However, we remain very concerned about how much of that funding will be applied to the current deficit to ensure that there will be no layoffs of teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff,” the statement said.

The city plans to dip into its Rainy Day Fund for some of its share, Pugh said. The city’s contribution may also rise as it picks up the costs of school services, such as crossing guards, and as it finds new revenue sources.

For example, Pugh said, “we are auditing our police department, and whenever we look at savings, in my opinion, we ought to be looking at children first.”

As for the state’s contribution, about $6 to $8 million comes from the budget.

Baltimore Del. Maggie McIntosh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the rest comes from a bill that changes the way the state calculates school funding for jurisdictions like Baltimore City that have declining school enrollment.

The bill allows enrollment to be calculated based on a three-year average, rather than a single year’s enrollment count.

The state funds local education based on enrollment, so a drop in enrollment equals a loss of money.

The bill also lets counties include students attending publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs in their enrollment tallies, further boosting numbers, McIntosh said, which will help Baltimore in particular.

“We pay over $34 million for our pre-k program. We have not been able to count those children,” she said. “Shouldn’t you count kids you’re spending $34 million on?”

The legislation would be effective for three years. A state commission is in the process of studying and potentially replacing the school-funding formula, and its work is expected to be completed before the three years is up.

In the legislation’s first year, it would affect five jurisdictions, including Baltimore, where enrollment dropped enough to have a significant effect on the budget.

But the bill requires a supplemental budget appropriation from Hogan. Spokesman for the governor Doug Mayer said the city and governor are still negotiating over the additional money.

“Any additional state assistance needs to be met with assurances from the city that these long-term financial issues are going to be remedied with some long-term solutions,” Mayer said.

If he agrees to the spending, McIntosh said, the Appropriations Committee left money available in the budget for it.

“The Appropriations Committee today will pass a budget with a fund balance — fund balance — of $138 million,” she said Friday morning.

And that’s after they restored programs passed last year aimed at boosting Baltimore, including money for summer school and extended library hours, she said. Hogan cut the programs when he introduced the budget earlier this year in an effort to fill the state’s own budget hole.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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