Pugh confident Hogan will help Baltimore schools despite criticism

Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday she has confidence Gov. Larry Hogan will come to the aid of Baltimore public schools, despite his strong rebuke of the system this week.

The Republican governor continued his criticism of city schools at an appearance Wednesday, saying millions of dollars have been "wasted" or are "unaccounted for." At issue is whether the state is going to help the system close a $130 million budget gap, the biggest it has faced in recent history.


"To just say we want the state to write us a check for $130 million with no explanation about where it's going to go or how they're going to manage it, that's not going to happen," Hogan said. "But I am going to sit down with the mayor and with the legislature, and we continue to try to help Baltimore City."

He said "there's no proposal on the table whatsoever" from the mayor or other Baltimore elected officials.


Pugh, a Democrat, said earlier in the day that negotiations are ongoing with Hogan and legislative leaders. The goal, she said, is to put together a three-year plan to address the system's financial woes.

The mayor did not take issue with critical remarks Hogan has made about the school system. During an interview Tuesday with WBAL radio, Hogan said the schools were an "absolute disaster" and the system had "no fiscal accountability."

Going forward, Pugh said, the schools must provide "transparency and accountability for the dollars that are given to them" and the system must be able to give city and state officials "complete confidence."

"My conversations with the governor have always been good," Pugh said. "He recognizes the importance of children and, ultimately, I think he will help us to close this gap. But I think when people have an opinion, and they feel they need to express it, they should be able to do so."


Edie House Foster, a spokeswoman for city schools, said district officials have worked "diligently as a responsible steward of public funds," noting that external audits have not turned up any problems. Auditors have commended the district for fiscal management, she said.

"External experts in school finance have documented the structural causes of the district's budget gaps, which stem from rising costs and flat or declining revenue," House Foster said in a statement. "Analysis from the state's own Department of Legislative Services found that City Schools should be receiving $290 million more in annual funding, another indication that the district's projected $130 million budget gap for 2017-18 is not the result of mismanagement."

House Foster said city schools submitted a letter to Hogan last month formally requesting additional funding.

Hogan's comments this week have riled parents and teachers.

The Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, a co-chairman with Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, or BUILD, fired back at the school board meeting Tuesday night.

"We agree, Governor Hogan: It's a disaster because you and the legislature owe us the money," he said. "This gap was not caused by mismanagement. It wasn't caused by a failure of teachers or principals or the current CEO, and to any elected official who tries to offer alternative facts, we say, 'Come look at the audits!'"

Hogan said Wednesday that misinformation persists about the state's financial commitment to schools. The contribution is based on a formula that was approved by the legislature.

"We fully funded the formula, not only in Baltimore City, but everywhere across the state," Hogan said. "We put in record funding."

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said Hogan should visit the city schools to "see how well we do with what we have." The financial problems are due to lack of funding, not "mismanagement or lack of dedication."

"Right now we are in a dilemma. We need the governor to help us," Clarke said. "We have not misspent money. We have not had the money to spend to do the work that we have to."

Pugh said Hogan's comments were not a reflection on current schools CEO Sonja Santelises, who was installed less than a year ago.

Pugh said it will likely be a "week or two" before officials reveal how much money the city is seeking from the state.

"The question becomes, 'What is the number that the school system needs to continue to operate?'" Pugh said. "Those are the things I am working with the state legislature and will continue to work with the governor on."

Santelises recently warned that the schools deficit could force more than 1,000 layoffs and lead to larger class sizes. An estimated 80 percent of the cuts would fall on individual schools and teachers.

The schools chief said she needs a commitment from the city and state by April 1 at the latest to restore the budget cuts in time. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Pugh announced during a news conference in Annapolis on Monday that she was continuing to work with officials to close the gap. Principals, preachers and other advocates, meanwhile, rallied outside of City Hall in Baltimore to express dismay over the situation. The shortfall is the largest in recent history.

The mayor had told a cheering crowd of 2,000 students, parents and advocates last week to expect an "announcement" this past Monday about her plans to help close the Baltimore school system's budget gap.

Pugh said Wednesday that over time she wants to increase the city's contribution to the schools. She also is seeking control of school board appointments from the General Assembly.

Baltimore contributes the third-lowest amount to its school system, per pupil, among Maryland jurisdictions. The city is the only jurisdiction in the state that spends more on policing than on schools. Last year, the city spent more than $265 million on schools, but more than $450 million on police.

The city itself is facing a budget shortfall of $20 million.

Baltimore receives the second-greatest amount of money in the state, after Prince George's County, in direct education aid. Maryland's contribution of more than $12,000 per pupil to Baltimore's schools is nearly double the state average.

Multiple factors are cited for the city schools' budget shortfall, including growing city property values and shrinking student enrollment — the district expects to lose nearly 1,000 students next year. The two factor into a formula officials use to determine state aid.

Long-term structural budget issues, such as greater-than-average teacher pay and the high costs of health care and pensions, are also factors.

Baltimore Sun reporters Ian Duncan, Tim Prudente and Erin Cox contributed to this article.


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