Principals ask $4 million for discipline effort


Baltimore school principals, saying they're tired of waiting for others to solve the problem of violent and disruptive students, have asked the school board for $4 million to expand prevention, counseling and suspension programs.

The principals are seeking a share of the school superintendent's proposed $646 million budget, which will be discussed at a public hearing scheduled for 5:30 today at school headquarters on North Avenue. Their request will compete with many others in Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's proposal.

"It's a matter of setting priorities -- the budget is large enough," said Sheila Kolman, president of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association of Baltimore. "At this point, if they say they can't afford it all, we're going to be very disappointed."

The principals' request includes:

* $1.5 million to operate six "presuspension" centers, based on a 3-year-old model program at Pimlico Middle School. Tutors, social workers and teachers there counsel unruly middle-school students who are sent from four schools for six weeks or more. The goal is to teach students social skills, including how to cope with problems, before returning them to regular classes.

"We take students who are disruptive but who can be saved," said Gary Unfried, principal at Harbor City Learning Center, which operates the program. "Some are attention-starved, some have problems at home, such as a drug-addicted parent. They act out for different reasons."

* Money for each school to design its own violence-prevention programs.

* Policy changes to ensure that suspension from school is a form of rehabilitation rather than a holiday. The principals want suspended students and their parents to receive counseling or other attention from the school system before the students return to school.

With the support of the superintendent and school board, the principals began meeting several weeks ago to address the problem of troubled children.

School board President Phillip H. Farfel said the board will provide funding, but perhaps not as much as the principals have sought.

"We don't know how much money we'll have for it," Dr. Amprey said yesterday. He said the problem is balancing the budget's limited growth with a large number of high-priority projects. The proposed budget is 2.3 percent larger than this year's budget.

The city's support of the school system for the forthcoming budget year is $195 million, up from $192 million. About 42 percent of the city's property tax -- $2.44 of the total rate of $5.85 per $100 of assessed value -- goes to the school operating budget, according to Edward Gallagher, the city's finance chief.

School officials also are considering a $1 million request to expand the safe-schools programs, Dr. Amprey said.

Meanwhile, they are watching proposed federal cuts, including the elimination of the Safe and Drug Free Schools Program, which provided about $483,000 for Baltimore programs this year.

Dr. Amprey said he'd like to expand the Sylvan Learning Center program into the high schools next year, which would cost about $4 million. He also would like to find money with which to launch a model of a private school's character-building program at Lake Clifton-Eastern High School, if the school community wants to participate. He had hoped to expand the $260,000 office that carries to schools his message of "efficacy," a philosophy that all children can excel at school

"We don't know yet what we're going to be able to do," Dr. Amprey said. "I'm clearly in a bind. I've got to present a balanced budget for 1996. Hopefully, we'll find a way to do some of these innovations, but we're not going to get any more money."

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