Saying the state has shortchanged Baltimore's efforts to revive its underachieving schools, the city school board is urging the governor to come up with more money -- or face the prospect of another bitter court battle.
The school board sent Gov. Parris N. Glendening a strongly worded letter yesterday complaining that he and state legislators had failed to provide the necessary funds for classroom reforms.
"The legislative session has now ended, and the funds appropriated for the city schools fall far short of satisfying these most critical instructional priorities, despite the state's billion-dollar surplus," wrote board President J. Tyson Tildon.
His three-page letter requests an immediate meeting with the governor and concludes with a warning that the board "is hopeful that our negotiations will make it unnecessary for us to return to court. We are sure that the state shares that hope."
Glendening's office was quick to refute the assertion that at a time of great prosperity, the state has ignored its court-ordered obligation to Baltimore's mostly poor schoolchildren.
"We're putting in far more money in Baltimore than in any other jurisdiction," said Mike Morrill, the governor's spokesman.
City schools are getting an extra $30.7 million, he said, more than three-fifths of the $49.7 million they wanted to send failing students to summer school, recruit better teachers with higher salaries and expand preschool and other programs. That is in addition to the $50 million coming this year from the state's 1997 multimillion-dollar aid package intended to rescue the city schools from decades of decline.
Morrill said spending on Baltimore's schoolchildren has increased dramatically during Glendening's tenure, from $3,814 per pupil in 1995 to $5,986 in the budget year that begins July 1. Wealthier suburbs that spend more on education do so with local tax funds.
The school board, however, disputes that the state is financing much of its $49.7 million "remedy plan," a list of proposed improvements ranging from expanding full-day kindergarten to restoring art and music instruction.
School officials say only $8 million was provided for their specified reforms. Most of the other $22 million, they say, is an estimate of Baltimore's share of state spending on existing programs.
Tildon and other board members argue that the state did not make a good-faith effort to finance their classroom improvement plan -- as required by the 1996 court settlement of three major lawsuits over the funding and management of the city schools.
The result was that the state assumed greater control of the school district in 1997 in return for $254 million in new aid. One stipulation was that the district could seek additional money midway through the five-year deal -- and if the reform initiatives appeared to be working, the legislature would be obligated to try to fund them. If the legislature failed to do so, the law says, the school board can go back to court.
City schoolchildren have shown small gains on state tests in the last two years, and a consultant hired by the state gave the reform efforts a good review.
Tildon called the $49.7 million request a bargain. To raise standards and spending on Baltimore schools to the same level as those in better-off suburbs, he said, the district would need another $200 million in additional aid a year.
"The place had been decaying," he said. "It has not been attended to in terms of the resources needed for more than 20 years."