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Hundreds of students rally in front of City Hall, asking Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to restore $4.2M in afterschool funds.
Hundreds of students rally in front of City Hall, asking Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to restore $4.2M in afterschool funds. (Luke Broadwater / Baltimore Sun)

Leaders on the Baltimore City Council are threatening a government shutdown unless Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake restores more than $4 million in funding for youth programs.

As about 200 students and activists rallied for more funding Monday outside City Hall, council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and the council's budget chairwoman, Helen Holton, said they will refuse to approve the mayor's $2.6 billion spending plan — leaving the city without authorized funding for the next fiscal year — unless the mayor restores millions for youth programs.

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"Does the mayor and her administration want to shut government down?" Young asked. "For kids, I'll shut this whole city down."

At issue is $4.2 million the city allocated last year to pay for 2,500 children to participate in after-school programs. The money was also used to operate six community schools. Many of the programs help youths near the site of rioting in West Baltimore last year.

Council members also are concerned about a $167,000 reduction in funding for day-care programs at Waverly and Northwood schools.

Activists, including teachers and parents with after-school provider Child First Authority and clergy with Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, or BUILD, have advocated for the funding for weeks but have yet to reach an agreement with the Rawlings-Blake administration.

Administration officials say they are cutting the funding because of fiscal restraints.

Holton, chairwoman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, said she will not allow a budget vote by the panel unless the mayor changes her stance. The budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 must be approved by the end of this month to avert a government shutdown, Holton and Young said. By law, the City Council must approve a balanced budget by June 26.

"If I'm going to take on a fight, I'm willing to take on a fight for children," Holton said. She said a government shutdown could mean furloughs for city employees and could halt city tax collection.

A spokesman for the mayor stressed that there is still time to negotiate a resolution to the dispute. Spokesman Anthony McCarthy said the administration was in discussions with the council about "this and several other issues with regards to the budget."

"The mayor is committed to ensuring our children remain one of the most important priorities in this process," he said. He noted that City Councilman Brandon Scott has proposed holding a hearing on the mayor's plan to sell four parking garages to raise up to $60 million to fund youth programs.

For weeks, administration officials have argued that funding the programs isn't fiscally prudent. The $4.2 million allocated last year was a "one-time boost" for after-school programs, budget director Andrew Kleine has argued.

He noted that the mayor's proposed budget for next year includes about $10 million more than state funding formulas require for the city school system. That figure includes about $2.8 million to cover payouts of unused leave for employees departing the school system.

Outside City Hall, activists led about 200 elementary school students in a chant to put pressure on the mayor.

"We need funding!" they said. "We need opportunities. We need the people we elect to be accountable to the communities!"

Carol Reckling, director of Child First Authority, said every year, activists have had to pressure Rawlings-Blake to keep her campaign promise to increase funding for afters-chool programs.

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"I guess the mayor thinks we don't need opportunity any more," Reckling said. "All the programs that got started will now have to stop — 2,500 students will now be left out in the cold, or the heat of the summer."

Dwight Guyton, a fifth-grade student a City Springs Elementary and Middle School, said he benefits greatly from his after-school program.

"The mayor and City Council always say 'children first' but then they take the money away from after-school programs," he said. "That makes me angry. After-school programs keep students off the street and keep us active. I love having something to do after school."

Council members noted that the administration introduced two bills Monday to increase spending in the current budget by $66 million — $40 million to cover snow removal for the past winter and $26 million for police overtime during the past year. The money needed for snow removal is more than double initial estimates.

Both Young and Holton argued that more money needs to be spent on youth programs, not police.

"Youth investment is public safety," Holton said.

"I cannot support a budget that does not have things in it for our youth," Young said.

Rawlings-Blake's fiscal 2017 budget recommends allocating $480 million to police and $265 million to public education for students from kindergarten through high school.

The city schools are largely funded by the state of Maryland, which has dedicated $932 million to Baltimore's schools next year. The state does not help pay the operating expenses of the city Police Department.

Kleine has said the mayor's administration curbed the annual increases to the police budget this year.

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