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Baltimore City Council could vote on deep cuts to mayor's budget tonight to free up money for schools

The full Baltimore City Council could vote tonight on deep cuts to Mayor Catherine Pugh's budget to free up more money for schools and after-school programs.

The council's budget committee has already voted to cut more than $15 milllion from the mayor's budget, including her entire budget bureau, mobile job units and $2 million from police administration. Council members plan to continue to negotiate the with mayor's staff today before deciding what to do at a preliminary vote of the full council tonight at 5 p.m.

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By law, the City Council has the power to cut from the mayor's budget. But only Pugh can redirect funds to new purposes.

"I continue to be committed to getting a deal done with the administration," said City Councilman Eric T. Costello, chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee. "The council is all on the same page about funding our priorities, which are focused on youth programming. These priortities are important to us and we're not backing down from these priortities."

Council members have pressed the Pugh administration to use a $13 million surplus from the current fiscal year to provide $10 million more for public schools and about $3 million more for after-school programs next year.

Both schools and after-school programs are facing cuts in next year's budget. School officials already have laid off more than 100 employees to help close a budget shortfall.

The council committee has voted to strip $2 million from Pugh's budget bill for the Bureau of the Budget and Management Research and cut $770,000 from the innovation fund.

The committee also voted to cut some of Pugh's signature initiatives, including $1 million for mobile employment vans, $600,000 for new energy-efficient trash cans, $2 million from police administration, $2.7 million for debt for municpal trash cans, $6 million for paying down other debts and $435,000 in miscellaneous expenses in the mayor's office.

Pugh's budget director Andrew Kleine said in an email that the surplus money is just a projection. If it materializes, he said he plans to use the suplus money to shore up the budget against a number of long-term issues, including potential retroactive pension payments if the city loses a lawsuit filed by the police union, the costs of taking care of the city's closed schools, and funding the mayor's committment to provide $90 million in increased money for the city schools over the next three years.

This past Thursday, school system teachers, librarians, guidance counselors, assistant principals and support staff were informed they would lose their jobs. Administrators said they laid off 115 people in all, including the first classroom teachers in a decade, part of a plan to close a $130 million budget gap.

School officials say more money from the city could help prevent a second round of layoffs and allow them to call back some employees who were laid off in the first round.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young has said the cuts would help fund $10 million more for schools and $2.4 million for community school and after-school spending for the Family League of Baltimore. Young also said he wants the freed-up money to go the Maryland Food Bank and the anti-violence Safe Streets program, which lost a key grant needed to operate.

A final council vote on the budget is scheduled for June 12.

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