Baltimore school officials and ACLU concerned that governor's budget doesn't include funds Negotiations under way on $10 million allotted for failing schools


Baltimore school officials and the American Civil Liberties Union are crying foul over what they say is a $10 million bait-and-switch being played by the state.

The state law that created city school reform last year and gave Baltimore $254 million in additional funding promised that existing state money to city schools would not be reduced, school officials say.

But when the city looked at the governor's budget this year, it found it didn't include $10 million the schools had historically received for its worst performing schools.

"When we settled this case, we wanted to be real clear that the amount that was appropriated didn't get taken away -- so the state wasn't giving with one hand and taking away with another," said Susan Goering, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland.

Ordinarily, a squabble over how much money the state gives a school system is a matter of politics in Annapolis. But this debate carries a deeper implication because the ACLU and the city have the power to take their case to the judges who brokered a settlement to several lawsuits over city schools two years ago.

The ACLU is negotiating with the governor's staff over the money.

"I think they are taking our concerns seriously," said Bebe Verdery, education reform director of the ACLU of Maryland.

She would not say if the ACLU would go to court over the issue if the governor does not restore the money. But in a letter to the governor last month, the ACLU said the failure to include the money appears to violate the state law.

The money was used for 35 of Baltimore's worst schools -- those that have been labeled failing by the State Department of Education based on results of a statewide test.

For troubled Northern High School, that meant an additional $400,000. The school hired a second attendance monitor to track down truants and get them back to school, spent $100,000 on staff training and bought computers and printers and wired 42 classrooms for them.

The school also set up an "in-house suspension program" to remove students with behavior problems to a different classroom temporarily instead of suspending them from school.

Based on the purchase of the computer system last year, the school applied for a $500,000 grant to buy more computers for classrooms, said Principal Alice Morgan Brown.

Pimlico Elementary used its additional money in part to hire two dozen parents, many of whom were on welfare, to help in the school. The school's MSPAP test scores rose dramatically.

"In order for these things to start to take shape and really have an effect on your school, you need to do them over time," said Brown. "And you need at least four years to see a freshman benefit from these things for their entire time in the school."

Baltimore's school board is writing to the governor requesting the addition of $10 million to its funding.

State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has asked the governor to include another $4.4 million to help 29 Baltimore schools added to the list of failing schools in January.

"There is some strong validity to the questions being raised," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat.

The state has provided extra money for these failing schools, he said, but the legislature never intended these schools to receive money for many years. The money was seen as a way to jump-start progress there, he said.

"There is no statutory requirement that reconstitution-eligible schools receive additional funding," he said.

Pub Date: 3/06/98

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad