Baltimore City schools CEO Gregory Thornton released Tuesday a proposed $1.2 billion budget that reduces per-pupil funding for charter schools and plans for rising expenses in salaries and health insurance.

However, figures could change when additional funding is released by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Gov. Larry Hogan, budget officials said.

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In the proposal, he announced funding for a pilot program to provide individual laptops to elementary school students. The program will begin this spring at two elementary schools, though Thornton declined Monday night to identify the schools.

The proposal funds 55 fewer positions at the central offices of the school district, but that doesn't mean layoffs, Interim Chief Human Capital Officer Deborah Sullivan said. The reduction may come from attrition and removing from the books some positions already vacant, she said.

Also, the budget proposal funds about 20 fewer school police officers, officials said.

"Even though it's not as much as I would want it to be, it's certainly a down payment on the future," Thornton said.

School officials said they made necessary cuts to accommodate an anticipated increase of about $10 million to provide health insurance to employees. Rising costs of prescription drugs are driving that increase, officials said. Salaries are budgeted to increase nearly $3.2 million in the proposal.

There was debate Monday about when the additional money from the mayor and governor will be included in the budget and the final amount. The district was facing a decline in state funding because student enrollment dropped. A Baltimore Sun report last January revealed the school district had inflated enrollment numbers in prior years, but the money was promised back by Rawlings-Blake and Hogan.

Monday night, it was not immediately clear how that money would affect the budget.

In a letter to the community, Thornton said the state money only brought the district's revenue to last year's levels and could not cover increased costs.

"As a good steward of public resources, city schools must balance its budget so this means making some hard decisions," he said. "While we are committed to minimizing the impact on schools and maximizing the resources provided for improving teaching, learning, and success for all students, all schools and offices will feel the effect of reductions in services."

The district will increase the amount of per-pupil funding for traditional schools by $233, to $5,569, but charter schools will see a $246 drop to $9,141. Charter schools receive more cash per-pupil because they don't receive certain services from the central office that traditional schools do.

The decline in charter school funding comes as the district faces a lawsuit filed by more than two dozen charter schools administrators that allege the district has not funded the privately run, publicly funded schools in accordance with the state's charter law.

In Thornton's letter, he identified the lawsuit as "one issue [that] continues to threaten the long term sustainability of the district and our principles of equity."

Nicole Harris-Crest, head of Maryland Alliance of Public Charter Schools, released a statement Tuesday before Thornton presented his budget blasting the school chief's characterization of the lawsuit.

She called it a "divisive attempt to distract from the school system's challenges and to divide members of the traditional and charter community who are all entitled to greater transparency and improved fiscal management by the district."

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The budget is available for review at baltimorecityschools.org/budget. Written comments may be submitted at budgetcomments@bcps.k12.md.us.

The balanced budget proposal was presented at a meeting of the Board of School Commissioners. Members are scheduled to vote May 3.

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