More than 100 of Baltimore's students, parents, teachers and community members on Thursday protested Gov. Larry Hogan's $35 million in proposed budget cuts to city schools.
Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) co-chairman, the Rev. Andrew Foster Connors explained the cuts and referenced a Baltimore Sun report that revealed the school system faces an additional $60 million deficit in next year's budget.
"Our children are being threatened," Connors said.
He also criticized Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for giving out tax breaks to developers, which increased the city's property wealth by more than $1.3 billion with the construction of hotels like the Mariott in Harbor East.
Since the state's school funding formula is based in part on property wealth, Connors said allowing developers not to pay taxes constituted "developing Baltimore on the backs of our children."
Tyhera Bennett, 11, a fifth grader at Robert W. Coleman Elementary, read a letter by her sister Tykaila Taft, in front of the auditorium full of people. The letter mentioned Taft's Gospel dance teacher, Ms. Tia, who she said is "strict" but "always makes me want to do better."
"I would be angry if Ms. Tia or a classroom teacher lost their job," Bennett read. "She is a great dance teacher. If students work hard, we deserve to have other privileges and have fun in school.
"If Gov. Hogan were here, I would not want to speak to him, because my mother always told me if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all.
"But if he were here, I would say 'you shouldn't cut schools,'" she read. "Please don't cut Baltimore and don't cut my education."
The governor's office has argued that his budget includes more statewide funding for elementary, middle and high school students than any other in history and has said it is open to ideas for how the state can increase its investment in education.
Carol Augustine, of St. Matthew Parish in Northwood, said she doesn't have children but realizes how crucial the success of Baltimore's schools are to the city.
"I'm here as somebody who loves and believes in kids," the 68-year-old former teacher said. "I believe kids deserve the best we can give them."
Schools CEO Gregory Thornton has met with key lawmakers in Annapolis this week to assure them he will close the $60 million deficit and set the school system on a fiscally responsible path.
The $60 million deficit is due in part to the cost of a teachers contract approved in 2010. The contract rewards teachers for performance and continued training rather than seniority, but increased costs faster than expected.
In the meetings, Thornton has asked legislators to work to restore $35 million in cuts in Hogan's budget proposal, and those gathered at the BUILD meeting Thursday night at Roland Park Elementary/Middle pledged to call lawmakers and, in some cases, to go to Annapolis to make their case as well.
If proposed state cuts are approved, the system's total deficit would be roughly $100 million, or about 8 percent of the $1.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.