City, state officials seek $180 million extra for Baltimore schools over three years

Pugh outlines a deal to put $180 million into Baltimore schools over the coming three years.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and state lawmakers outlined a proposal Friday designed to give the city school system a reprieve from its annual ritual of plugging budget holes — but the sources of money for the deal have yet to be finalized and the plan wouldn't entirely close a funding gap the schools face for the coming year.

The plan, offered by Pugh and supported by Baltimore's delegation to the General Assembly, calls for the city and the state to provide $180 million over three years. That would give the schools a degree of stability until lawmakers pass a major overhaul of the way Maryland funds education, officials say.

But the school system has projected a budget gap of $130 million for the coming year alone, which schools CEO Sonja Santelises says could mean laying off 1,000 employees.

Santelises said that the promise of extra funding is welcome but that it's too soon to tell whether the additional money would be sufficient to avoid staff cuts and other impacts on schools.

"The reality is we still have a budget gap remaining," she said Friday. Her team will study the package more closely in coming days.

In a statement, the Baltimore Teachers Union said it was concerned about how much of the new funding would go toward closing the immediate gap "to ensure that there will be no layoffs of teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff."

Funding shortfalls have repeatedly bedeviled the school system in recent years, as the city has been hurt by state funding cuts stemming from declining enrollment and the impact of tax deals for developers. Without the plan announced Friday, state funding to the city's schools is projected to fall $42 million in the coming budget.

About half the proposed $180 million would come from city sources, including the rainy day fund and leftover snow removal money, Pugh said. Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for the mayor, later said the final sources of the money have not been identified. Preliminary decisions will be made at a Board of Estimates meeting at the end of this month, he said.

The state would make up the rest of the proposed money, largely through a bill that would change how the school system counts enrolled students. Officials also said negotiations between the city and Gov. Larry Hogan could lead to an extra infusion of cash.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller cautioned that the plan involving Hogan is more of "a hope" than a sealed deal.

"There is no agreement," he said. "There are conversations."

Lawmakers have been exploring a multi-year budget deal since January, when Santelises outlined the depth of the cuts the school system faced. Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat, said having a long-term plan will give parents more confidence in the school system's future and lock in funding "so we don't have to do this every session."

While the plan unveiled Friday doesn't fill the entire budget gap, Del. Maggie McIntosh, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said any aid the state and city can provide will help ward off cuts.

"The more we can help, the fewer layoffs of teachers and the less impact to our schools," the Baltimore Democrat said.

The Republican leaders in the House and Senate said they didn't know enough about the plan to comment.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, welcomed the announcement. "It's not everything that we want, but it's a major step in the right direction," she said.

McIntosh said the Appropriations Committee's revised version of Hogan's state budget proposal includes roughly $8 million more for city schools. A separate bill, meanwhile, would make tweaks to how student enrollment is calculated — a key element of the state's education funding formula.

McIntosh said the bill would allow school systems to count full-time pre-kindergarten students toward their numbers and rely on a three-year rolling average to calculate enrollment in order to smooth out the effect of any decline.

The changes would provide city schools with about $24 million in additional state aid, McIntosh said. The legislation needs approval from the House, Senate and governor.

"We've got work to do," said Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the city's House delegation.

A spokeswoman for the governor did not respond to questions whether Hogan would commit to signing the enrollment calculation bill, and it's not clear where negotiations between Hogan, Pugh and the General Assembly stand.

Shareese N. Churchill, the spokeswoman, said that the "administration is actively engaged in conversations regarding the Baltimore City schools' financial situation."

"However, any additional assistance from the state must be met with assurances that moving forward, there is a long-term strategy in place to correct previous fiscal mismanagement," Churchill said. "We look forward to continuing our very productive conversations with Mayor Pugh and all city leadership."

Miller said Hogan is not yet on board.

"The governor has never, in my opinion, openly expressed that funding for Baltimore City schools would take place in a manner that's agreeable to the mayor and the Baltimore City school board," Miller said.

The state is in the midst of a major study of how funding is allocated to local school districts. A panel known as the Kirwan Commission is expected to recommend legislation in next year's General Assembly session. Officials say a three-year deal would act as a "bridge" to the new funding system. The commission's proposals could call for significant spending increases.

In the meantime, Santelises said, her team is looking at changes the school system can make internally to bring down costs and boost enrollment. Santelises said she thinks improving the quality of schools could get more children in classrooms, bringing with them state dollars, while some schools that have too few students to be financially viable could be closed.

Santelises said negotiations with the teachers union could also lead to savings.

"You don't set an organization on the path to long-term financial health and high-level effectiveness for families if you're only looking at how to patch the hole year after year," she said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Michael Dresser and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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