School board OKs $856.7 million budget; City spending plan includes money to help low-performing students


The Baltimore school board unanimously approved last night an $856.7 million budget that will put new dollars into programs to help low-performing students -- from elementary to high school -- catch up with their peers across the state.

Next year's budget, passed last night, includes $12.2 million for summer school and after-school programs to help students who are trailing, and more than $4 million for middle and high school reforms. An additional $19.7 million is for raises for school employees.

Much of the new money -- about $25 million -- is from state aid provided by the governor and legislature to improve achievement in city schools, but the eight-member board has complained that it needs more to turn around the lowest-performing system in the state.

The school system is negotiating with Gov. Parris N. Glendening for more state aid.

The new money will allow the school board to proceed with a key policy shift, developed this year, that requires second- and fourth-graders to be held back if they are failing reading and math. Until recently, the city had an unwritten policy of social promotion, passing students whether or not they had mastered the work.

School officials believe a large percentage of pupils in those grades will fail and be required to attend summer school.

The budget, which takes effect July 1, tries to address long-standing inequities in funding for high schools. Complaints have poured in for years that City College and the School for the Arts receive a larger share than other schools, particularly Western High School and Polytechnic Institute.

City College has received $5,443 per student compared with $3,657 at Poly.

School officials decided to use $3 million in new state money to begin erasing the inequities. Half of the money will be given to five schools to bring their per-student allotment to $3,700, while the remainder is spread among the city's other high schools.

Megan Shook, president of Western High School's PTA, said she is glad that the issue has been addressed but that she is not satisfied. Principals and administrators did not reach a solution until April 10, after the first draft of the budget had been written.

"I think the work that needs to be done [on high schools] was done in a belated and untimely manner," Shook said. "I am not at all sure that what was decided under the pressure of time is in fact the best approach."

Sixty percent of the budget is funded by the state, 24 percent by the city and 15 percent by the federal government. The rest is from other sources, including grants and private funds.

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