After proposals to plug city schools deficit, principals face new decision: What can they expect to restore?

Principals, teachers, parents, and others in the community gathered outside of City Hall to demand more money for Baltimore City schools. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)

Baltimore principals have agonized over their next budgets, cutting arts classes, tutors and librarians to prepare for an impending $130 million deficit across the city school district.

Now they face another decision: What can they expect to restore?


School district administrators are calculating the dollars that could be returned to each principal under plans to shrink the deficit. These amounts will be provided to the roughly 180 public school principals this week, said John Walker, the chief financial officer for city schools.

"This will be the dollars added back to their budgets," Walker said. "We're going to send out two different scenarios."


The principals will decide how to spend this restored money and submit their plans next week.

This latest round of number crunching and decision making comes amid a budget process that has proved the biggest test for principals since they were given power over their schools' finances nearly a decade ago.

City schools CEO Sonja Santelises announced early this year that the district was headed toward a $130 million shortfall. She said more than 1,000 people, from teachers to custodians, could be laid off. Some principals saw their budgets chopped by nearly one-quarter.

This ignited a campaign by teachers, parents and advocates to restore the money. And this month, Mayor Catherine Pugh and state lawmakers outlined a plan to deliver the schools $60 million annually for the next three years.

About half the money would come from city sources, the rainy-day fund and leftover snow-removal money, Pugh said. The state would make up the rest of the $180 million spread over three years.

"I feel pretty positive and encouraged that people other than principals, parents and teachers are taking a vested interest in our schools," said Aisha Almond, principal of the small Coppin Academy High School in West Baltimore.

Last month, Almond figured she would have to lay off least two of her 23 teachers to compensate for a $200,000 but next year. Now she intends to buy back at least one teacher in math. A teacher generally costs a principal about $90,000 a year in salary, health insurance and benefits.

"We shouldn't have to do more with less and be required to get the same results," Almond said.

If the plan by Pugh and state lawmakers becomes reality, it would shrink the deficit next year to $70 million. Furthermore, the school district has announced plans to save $30 million by cutting its central office and tapping reserve funds — dropping the deficit to $40 million.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said Monday evening he wants to cut $10 million from Baltimore police and give that money to the schools.

"A city that gives more money to their police department than they give to their education system is a problem," he told a cheering crowd of parents and teachers.

All this would leave the schools with a shortfall of $30 million — more manageable than the deficit principals faced weeks ago.


"We got to keep pushing to make our schools whole," said Rob English, an organizer with the nonprofit BUILD Baltimore, which has led the campaign to come up with the money to close the deficit.

Any layoffs would begin in May, according to a new budget calendar from the school district. Still, parents and teachers have expressed renewed hope that the 1,000 layoffs can be avoided.

"Everything is being done to not go down that road," said Walker, the school system's CFO. "I think we can say it won't be 1,000."

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