Facing $130 million shortfall, city teachers worry about staff and program cutbacks

By Katelyn Murphy
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Looking around the room during a recent faculty meeting, Kimberly Mooney wondered which of her fellow teachers would soon be gone as school officials attempt to close a $130 million budget deficit in the city education budget.

Kimberly Mooney

Kimberly Mooney

Mooney, a Spanish teacher at Roland Park Elementary and Middle School, said it is terrifying to consider what Baltimore City schools could soon be like for both students and teachers if this loss of money is not made up for in next year’s budget.

“It’s painful to think about what this means for the kids,” Mooney said. “It’s not their fault that this is happening, but they will be the ones suffering in the classrooms. We have been giving input to the principal about where cuts should be made, and it’s come down to choosing the lesser of many evils. We’ve had to start cutting things we need no matter what and just trying to decide what will be the least devastating.”

Baltimore city public schools will look drastically different on July 2. This is going to hit everything kids love about coming to school.

— School CEO Sonja Santelises

She worries about cutting programs that make it worthwhile for kids to come to school, such as art classes and after school programs, along with cutting guidance counselors and teachers’ aides in the classroom that make it possible to have enough help during the day.

The city’s school CEO Sonja Santelises announced last December that the education budget would face an estimated $130 million shortfall next year because of falling enrollment and increasing costs.

The deficit could mean about 1,000 layoffs of teachers, custodians and other employees, larger class sizes, and program cuts for all city schools. Over the past few week’s teachers, parents and students have rallied to preserve education and jobs within their school district.

Baltimore social studies teacher Cristina Duncan Evans worries about how the cuts will affect her school. She said the 75 part-time art teachers who currently work at the Baltimore School for the Arts is being reduced by 88 percent, and that academic programming is taking a huge cut. She believes this ultimately will be harmful for the students and their futures.

In a press release, Santelises said the budget cuts for the district will take effect on July 1.

“Baltimore city public schools will look drastically different on July 2,” Santelises said. “This is going to hit everything kids love about coming to school.”

The Baltimore Education Coalition has been working to preserve education in the city and find ways to help solve the budget deficit.

Frank Patinella, a co-chair of the BEC, said that he is hopeful that negotiations will end with something positive for the schools and the city, and he believes that there needs to be a bold approach made to solve the crisis.

He has been worried about the budget deficit for some time and is hoping others share his same feelings.

“The Baltimore Education Coalition and myself predicted this current frenzy months before now,” Patinella said in an interview. “We have been preparing for this for a while now because we knew it would really impact the classrooms in years to come. We start at the grassroots level to launch campaigns and to secure funding to try to avoid these situations as much as possible.”

City chool CEO Sonja Santelises

City school CEO Sonja Santelises

The coalition, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, have called on Mayor Catherine Pugh and Gov. Larry Hogan to fix the growing problem.

In a press release on Feb. 28, the ACLU said the state Department of Legislative Services calculated that city schools would have had an additional $290 million in the 2015 fiscal year budget if the state had not cut school funding in 2008.

“The state is going to provide whatever help we can, but rallies just saying, ‘Have the state give us another $130 million because we lost the rest of it,’ that’s not going to be very productive,” Hogan said in a statement available on YouTube.

For the past three years, the state of Maryland has put extra funding into Baltimore City schools, paying about $12,000  for each student. This is recorded as approximately twice as much as the state pays for any other district.

Mooney said this still is not enough for what the city students need and deserve.

“Governor Hogan has made inflammatory statements about the district and he talks about how Baltimore City schools get so much more money than other districts in the state,” Mooney said. “But he doesn’t put this in perspective for people. More people are living in poverty in Baltimore than in any other district, so of course we need more funding from the state, because that is where a majority of our funding comes from.”

On March 8, leaders from Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) confronted Pugh and City Council President Jack Young at the Board of Estimates meeting in City Hall, calling on them to find a solution to the  deficit facing the schools. BUILD was joined by 50 parents from Baltimore City schools that supported the cause.

The organization also hand delivered letters to Hogan, Del. Maggie McIntosh, D- Baltimore, Santelises, and Baltimore Teachers Union president Marietta English.

In the letters, BUILD asked these leaders to find a solution for the budget deficit in the next two weeks and announce that solution at a March 20 BUILD assembly that will draw hundreds of teachers, parents, students and principals.

Bishop Douglass Miles, a BUILD co-chair emeritus, wrote in his letter to Pugh that the city and state must work together to find a solution for the students.

“The current $130 million budget deficit facing Baltimore City public schools is a defining moment for our city,” Miles said in the letter. “If this deficit is not rectified — if leaders do not act to make our children whole — then the city may as well hang a sign reading, ‘Closed For Business.’”

Mooney said she hopes people realize that the district isn’t begging or asking for handouts, but that every organization is giving reasonable demands for the funding that their students deserve.

She said Maryland and its school districts need to stand together as a state that says education is a priority for everyone.

— John Schmid contributed to this report.

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