A number of Baltimore schools were forced to eliminate staff this week following midyear budget cuts.
Nearly 130 staff members were left looking for job placements after the city school district imposed budget cuts because student enrollments turned out to be lower than estimated. The displaced staff are placed into a "surplus" pool, from which they can be hired at other schools.
Meanwhile, the district opened schools this year without filling a number of teacher vacancies. As of this week, there were more than 170 vacancies, and classrooms are still being staffed by long-term substitutes.
While the district is contractually obligated to keep teachers and staff employed, the mid-year shuffles are not ideal, said Marietta English, president of the city's teachers union. She said the union is working to ensure displaced staffers get a new assignment "in a timely manner."
"To have this happen now is extremely disruptive to not just teachers and staff in the school, but to students as well," she said in a statement.
The budget cuts and staffing shuffles have taken place every fall since 2008, when former city schools CEO Andrés Alonso implemented a new funding model in the district. The model funds schools based on the number of students it enrolls.
In the first three years, The Baltimore Sun found the district carried a surplus pool — hundreds of full-time teachers and staff who are on the system's books but have no permanent placements — at a cost of $18 million.
Each spring principals build their budgets — programs, staffing, class sizes — around the number of students they project will enroll the following fall. Then on Sept. 30, schools must submit an official count of students to the central office.
If enrollments are less than projected, their budgets decline; higher enrollments bring funding increases. Principals then have to decide what programs and staff they will add or spare.
Jimmy Gittings, president of the public school administrator's union, said he believes the funding model "needs to be eliminated completely."
"Principals need to be given a budget at the beginning of the school year, according to the student population in their buildings," he said. "If that drops, during the course of September and October, they should still retain the same budget. Taking money away from schools is not beneficial at all."
City schools CEO Gregory Thornton has acknowledged that the model has detrimental and costly consequences. This year, amid a more than $100 million budget deficit, Thornton found $15 million in savings by eliminating the majority of the district's surplus pool of employees.