African-American group joins school funding debate

School administrator Anthony Alston, right, and school board present Stacy Korbelak answer questions at a meeting of the Caucus of African American Leaders Tuesday night in Annapolis.

Members of the Caucus of African American Leaders on Tuesday asked school leaders for more funding for Tyler Heights Elementary School, more black teachers in the school system and strategies to improve the academic performance of minority students.

The requests came as County Executive Steve Schuh's education adviser Amalie Brandenburg and school board president Stacy Korbelak answered questions from about 50 community members at the Wiley H. Bates Legacy Center in Annapolis.


Schuh's six-year funding plan allocates money for a feasibility study for Tyler Heights, which is in Annapolis, next fiscal year and construction funds in 2021. The school board requested feasibility and design funding for the fiscal year that starts July 1 and construction money for the school in fiscal 2018.

Members of the caucus said they're worried that schools with high percentages of low-income students, such as Tyler Heights, won't receive funding for construction projects in the next couple of years in Schuh's six-year plan.


Alderman Kenneth A. Kirby, D-Ward 6, lamented the overcrowding at Tyler Heights. He said some Tyler Heights students are traveling to Georgetown East Elementary School due to the overcrowding.

"These parents are screaming bloody murder," he said. "I need Tyler Heights moved up on the schedule."

Brandenburg said county officials funded a number of projects in Annapolis, citing construction projects at Georgetown East and Rolling Knolls elementary schools. Rolling Knolls is just outside of the city.

"We're doing the best we can," Brandenburg said.

Schuh allocated about $242 million to the capital budget, including state funds, just short of the $255 million the school board requested. He proposed to allocate $1.12 billion for the operating budget, including state and federal funds, compared to the $1.135 billion requested by the school board.

At nearly $642 million, county contributions to the school system this year make up more than 50 percent of Anne Arundel's overall budget. Education funding includes almost $5 million over maintenance of effort, the baseline expenditure the state requires the county to commit to public schools.

William Rowel, a member of the caucus and a member of The Capital editorial board, asked why Schuh prioritized building an expensive new high school in Crofton over deteriorating elementary schools that are cheaper to replace.

"It's counter-intuitive," Rowel said. "It doesn't make sense."


Schuh told the Capital Gazette editorial board last week that his goal is to build high schools for the county. He noted Anne Arundel's high schools have the highest average enrollment in the state, at approximately 1,900 students.

Brandenburg explained that Crofton High School is getting construction money earlier because the project is further along than the elementary schools.

Schuh funded a viability study this fiscal year to determine a location for Crofton High and funded the design for the building a few months ago.

Korbelak, the school board president, said equity in school construction is an important tenet of closing the achievement gap. She said schools with high numbers of students on free and reduced price meals are not receiving the same level of funding as a high school in a school area with a smaller percentage of low-income students.

About 89.5 percent of students at Tyler Heights are eligible for free and reduced price meals.

"I have a problems with that," she said. "That's an equity issue there with me, the buildings themselves."


Carl Snowden, an organizer with the Caucus of African American Leaders and columnist for The Capital, asked when school officials will close the achievement gap. It comes more than a decade after an agreement between community members and the school system to improve academic performance among minority students that have lower test scores and graduation rates than their white counterparts.

Standardized state test scores released in November showed great disparities among race groups.

While 58 percent of Asian students and 47 percent of white students scored a 4 or in English in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests, only 24 percent of Hispanic students and 20 percent of black students reached those scores. The Algebra I and II tests showed similar gaps. A score of 5 means the students exceeded expectations, and a 4 means they met expectations.

Korbelak said the disparity in achievement between white students and their black and Hispanic peers is a nationwide problem.

"I don't know what the answer is," she said. "If I did, we'd all be rich."

Members of the caucus told Korbelak they want the teacher population to better reflect the student population, which is about 20 percent black.


Korbelak said the school system competes for minority teachers and recruits from historically black schools. She explained that there's a shortage of teachers in Maryland, and even less minority teachers.

"Our ideal teaching staff would reflect our student population," she said.