Baltimore schools CEO Gregory Thornton told the City Council on Monday that the district is having difficulty retaining principals — but chided the city for not providing more money for its public schools.
Thornton and other school officials said 30 of the district's more than 180 schools lost their principals this past year — a turnover rate he said was about twice as high as national norms.
"The turnover rate is too high," Thornton said.
He said many school systems have principal turnover rates of about 10 percent. With the first day of classes a week away, he said eight Baltimore schools are still waiting to hire new principals, and 99 teacher positions remain vacant.
Several council members took issue with the principal vacancies. Councilman Eric T. Costello suggested that even if principals were hired now, they wouldn't have enough time to get ready for the first day of classes Aug. 31.
Councilman James B. Kraft said a school in his Southeast Baltimore district — Holabird Academy — is among those without a leader.
"I've got no principal," Kraft said. "As of today, I've got no principal. Somebody just can't walk into the school."
Thornton told Kraft that school officials would hire a principal for Holabird by Tuesday.
Councilwoman Helen Holton, who chairs the council's budget committee, said, "We have young adults that our system failed that have no hope for the future."
But Thornton accused the city of not spending enough on schools. In the current budget, the state is contributing $900 million to Baltimore schools, while the city contributes $258 million.
"Maybe the city has turned its back on the school district," Thornton said.
In June, the City Council called for quarterly hearings to discuss the schools' budget after the district faced a multimillion-dollar deficit and laid off more than 100 employees systemwide.
Council members vote on the school budget but do not provide direct oversight of the schools. That job rests with the school board.
Tension between the council and the school administration flared when the budget committee, chaired by Holton, initially declined to approve the city's spending for schools, saying education officials had misled the council to believe layoffs would be limited to central office staff — then sent pink slips to 59 school-based employees.
Thornton had a heated exchange Monday with Councilman Warren Branch over the layoffs.
Thornton said Monday that some — but not all — of those employees were being rehired.