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As police OT soars, Baltimore City Council looks for cuts to help fund schools

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young on Tuesday said he's grown angry the Baltimore Police Department continues to overspend its budget on overtime — and suggested cutting the agency to free up money to help with the massive city schools deficit.

Budget officials revealed at an afternoon briefing that the police department is on pace to spend $43 million on overtime this fiscal year, even though only $16 million is budgeted for overtime.

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"Police overtime has always been a big problem with me," Young said. "I want to know what the police department is doing to bring down that overtime when our school system is facing a $130 million budget deficit. We're giving more to the police department than we are to education."

Baltimore is the only jurisdiction in Maryland that spends more of its budget on policing than schools. Last year, the city spent more than $260 million on schools, but more than $450 million on police. Most of the city schools' budget is funded by the state of Maryland.

This year, city schools are facing a $130 million budget deficit and could be forced to lay off more than 1,000 people, including many teachers.

Despite the overages in police overtime, Baltimore budget director Andrew W. Kleine reported that the city is running an $8.7 million surplus this fiscal year, thanks to stronger-than-anticipated income tax revenue.

Some council members suggested Mayor Catherine Pugh direct that surplus toward the school system.

"Has there been any talk about transferring the surplus to the school system?" City Councilman Eric T. Costello asked.

"We're having discussions internally ... about what our strategy will be to support city schools," Kleine said. "That's about all I can say at this point."

Young targeted the police department with his harshest criticism. He said he was unhappy with the number of officers doing desk work instead of conducting patrols.

He suggested the overtime funding is not reducing crime, noting high numbers of shootings and murders.

"I tie overtime directly into reducing crime," Young said. "Right now, the murders are off the hook. The shootings are off the hook. Carjackings are off the hook. And I'm not happy. We need a real crime fighting strategy put in place."

Caroline Sturgis, the police department's chief financial officer, said 70 percent of the overtime spending was due to "staffing shortages as well as investigations and homicides." She said the police department has embarked on a plan to try to reduce overtime.

She noted the agency has lost more than 230 employees in the last fiscal year and said officials have put in place an "aggressive hiring plan."

Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said the schools budget deficit was due to a number of factors, including shrinking student enrollment and growing city property values. The two factor into a formula officials use to determine state aid and have resulted in less funding.

"Our total state aid has been flat or declining," she said.

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A state commission is studying how much state aid such go to Baltimore and other jurisdictions. A consultant recommended that the state should contribute $387 million more annually to Baltimore's schools based on the city's needs.

The school system also faces long-term structural budget issues, such as higher-than-average teacher pay and the high costs of health care and pensions.

Santelises said school officials have made a number of "strategic choices" such as offering school choice and pre-kindergarten that are showing results but are costly. She said the system needs to do a better job of marketing those successes to attract a growing student population, which would help increase funding.

Young said he would rather see money spent on students than police. But he said city schools must take a tough look at their own structural budget costs and look for cuts as they negotiate with unions for teachers and principals.

"I would rather put that money in our school system and teach our kids preventive stuff so we don't have to hire all these police officers," Young said. "It just sickens me that every time we have a budget hearing the police department, even though we give them more than any other agency in the city, is draining us."

City budget officials also warned about the fiscal impact of proposed legislation to raise the minimum wage in Baltimore to $15 per hour by 2022. Budget officials said such a move could cost the city more than $270 million over seven years.

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