Baltimore city schools 2014 budget notes central office cuts -- again

The Baltimore city school system is projecting a nearly $26 million increase in its fiscal year 2014 budget, officials said, however the district's central office will once again take a hit, with a near 9 percent cut.

The figures were released in a preliminary budget forecast presented to the city school board last week. In the presentation, district officials project $1.17 billion in baseline revenues next year--roughly 2 percent increase from FY2013-- that includes increased local and state funding.


Still, the district's Chief Financial Officer Victor De La Paz said that while revenue is up, "it's not up enough, and is not going to keep pace with expenses."

No concrete expenses were outlined in the presentation, though officials said schools have received their budget targets, and school budgets are due back to the district on March 15. They will be approved by March 27.


School officials also didn't specify per-pupil funding levels for next year, but did indicate that the allotment going to schools is slated to increase by nearly $20 million.

The presentation indicated that due to a projected enrollment increases, the base per-pupil expenditure will decrease for traditional schools next year, while some additional funds given to schools with high-need schools will increase.

Charter schools would receive $100 more per-pupil due to school closures driving down their overall enrollment numbers.

De La Paz said that when central office budgets come in on March 25, they will reflect a 9 percent cut to the headquarters' budget, having absorbed $21 million in increased costs, officials said.

"I do think some of the offices can absorb the cuts, but I think it's a healthy conversation when we're looking at efficiencies," he said.

The district had to move $15 million from its reserve fund to keep the cut at just 9 percent.

"Conversations are being had right now about what we can keep, or increase, and what things we can do away with altogether," said De La Paz. "Perhaps we can live with the computers we have for one more year."

An ever-shrinking central office has been a trademark of city schools CEO Andres Alonso's administration, which has operated under a philosophy that the bulk of the district's resources belong in school buildings.


"If we cannot safeguard schools, there's a huge ripple effect that affects everyone," he told board members. "That doesn't mean we're cutting people. But, we are operating with 500 fewer people that when I first got here."

"We have become lean," the schools chief said. "But, there are districts that are leaner."

But, it will be the fifth year in a row that an already bare bones central office will have to cut, which has raised concerns among board members about the district's capacity to support schools.

District officials have also acknowledged that a thin central office has required it to pay millions to temporary employees and contractors.

"One thing that needs to be clear is: When you cut staff at the central office, it does affect schools," said school board Commissioner Jerrelle Francois.

The board is scheduled to adopt the FY2014 budget on May 14.