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City Council calls on school system to change charter school funding formula

Members of the Baltimore City Council are calling on the school system to reconsider a proposed formula that would reduce budgets of several public charter schools.

Councilman Bill Henry introduced a resolution Monday calling for equitable funding of the city's charter schools — several of which are at an impasse with the school district over a new way city schools CEO Gregory Thornton has proposed funding them next year.

"Charter schools are public schools," said Henry, vice chairman of the council's education committee. "This is a fight between charter schools and the Baltimore City school system.

"There are people making decisions, trying to make the best decisions, but the answer is not to hurt the schools that are doing well in their efforts to try to do better for all schools."

Last week, a group of five operators representing eight schools filed a lawsuit against the district, contending that it had failed to fund the district's 34 charters in accordance with state law.

Henry — whose children attend a city charter school that is among those who filed suit — said he believes the district's proposal misses the mark. His resolution is supported by the full council.

"This formula is flawed and needs to go back to the drawing board," he said.

Thornton has said the district cannot afford to pay charters as much as they are asking for. The district has planned a forum Saturday on the issue at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School.

In other business, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young introduced a proposed charter amendment to annually dedicate an additional 3 percent of the city's budget to programs and services that benefit young people. That would represent $31 million under the current spending plan.

Young's proposal would be placed on the ballot in November 2016 and require the approval of voters. He didn't immediately identify places where city spending could be trimmed to pay for the investment, but said he wants to work with the public to build support.

"I believe that combining the ingenuity of the private sector, with audaciousness from the public sector offers the perfect prescription to help Baltimore heal and thrive during its post-riot resurgence," Young said in a statement.

All 14 of Young's colleagues on the City Council support the legislation, the Children and Youth Investment Act. Young pointed to other cities with similar spending dictates, including Miami and San Francisco.

Howard Libit, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, expressed concerns about the plan.

"We don't want to create a budgeting situation like in California where every feel-good group seeks to go to the ballots to carve out its share of the budget," Libit said. "That type of approach creates a situation where government is unable to respond to the urgent needs of the moment."

Another proposal filed Monday by Councilman Carl Stokes would cut the city's stormwater fees in half by July 2017. The fee — derided by critics as a "rain tax" — was added after the state required large jurisdictions to impose fees to pay for projects to reduce polluted runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.

Stokes, a Democrat who is running for mayor, said the motivation behind the fee may be worthwhile, but it puts too much burden on the working class.

"I think we're able to take care of this great civic duty by reducing the fee without overly burdening the taxpayers in Baltimore City," he said.

Libit said the city is required to pay for the projects — whether the money comes from the fee or the city's general fund.

"It's not really a choice we have," Libit said.

The Rawlings-Blake administration, meanwhile, filed a bill to authorize tax breaks for supermarkets that are built in Baltimore's food deserts.

The bill also would give breaks to grocery stores that undergo significant renovations in parts of Baltimore that would be food deserts were it not for those markets.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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