Schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland will recommend to the school board a course of action tonight to solve a financial crisis that has left the system nearly insolvent, said Robert R. Neall, a former state senator advising the system on its finances. A school board vote is expected at its regular meeting, before which teachers plan a protest.
While some have recommended that the school system take a longer time to erase a $58 million deficit and others have hinted at the possibility of an emergency loan, Neall said dramatic action is needed now.
"That is not something I would recommend," Neall said. "In addition to the dollars and cents, this organization has to change culturally and the sooner it can live within its means the better off everyone will be."
Both Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. have suggested in the past two days that they might intervene, but neither presented details on ways to avert the crisis.
Their remarks followed a vote by teachers Friday not to accept either a 6.8 percent pay cut or a furlough. Teachers said they were angry that neither the governor or the mayor had stepped in to prevent employees from having to shoulder the burden of the school system's financial mismanagement. School officials already have laid off 800 people earlier this school year and said they would lay off 1,200 more or impose the pay cut on their own by March 1.
Yesterday, O'Malley met with Copeland and Neall and asked a lot of questions, but did not make any proposals, Neall said.
"I don't have the solution yet," O'Malley said after the meeting. "I probably won't be able to affect that solution without some sacrifice from the teachers."
He said he will continue to play a leadership role.
On Sunday, O'Malley had said "there is no way we can allow the layoffs of a full 1,200 hardworking teachers."
But he added that the school system should not expect any financial bail out.
At a morning news conference yesterday, Ehrlich said: "The Baltimore City problem is fascinating. A lot of money was pumped into the system over the years with no accountability."
He added that "in order to get a bailout, I will demand accountability for the first time in a long time."
But later in the day, the governor's press secretary, Henry P. Fawell, said the governor was not offering any immediate help.
The governor will not consider any action, Fawell said, until an audit by the Maryland Department of Education looking into possible corruption by school officials is completed. That audit has not started yet; school officials have said they must act in the next week to cut $16 million out of this year's budget and reduce the deficit.
City Council members weighed in yesterday with several suggestions.
Council President Sheila Dixon said the schools need a new source of revenue and introduced a resolution last night to support the Maryland State Teachers Association's campaign to raise the state sales tax 1 percent to finance education.
"We're jeopardizing the kids and teachers," she said.
If the school system decides to impose a pay cut, an attorney representing three city school unions said they will try to block the move.
Keith J. Zimmerman, a labor attorney with Kahn, Smith and Collins, said the unions would seek a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, asking a judge to stop the school system from immediately imposing pay cuts.
"We would be asking for an expedited ruling. It is an emergency situation," Zimmerman said, because such a pay cut would have serious consequences for employees.
The unions would argue that the school system has breached its contract with the teachers, he said.
If the school system decides to begin layoffs of up to 1,200 employees, he said certain rules in the union contract must be followed.
Zimmerman said the union plans to file a grievance saying that the school system violated its contract with the teachers in the last round of layoffs on Febuary 4, that included 59 teachers.
Sun staff writers Stephen Kiehl, Doug Donovan and Tanika White contributed to this report.