City directs $1 million to charter schools

The Baltimore Sun

Mayor Sheila Dixon attended the official opening of a new kitchen and cafeteria at the Patterson Park Public Charter School yesterday and, while at the event, also announced city grants worth $1 million to a number of charter schools in Baltimore.

As part of her agenda for improving school facilities, some of which are in dire need of repair, Dixon has vowed not to forget charter schools, which are considered public but are operated independently. Baltimore has more than two dozen charter schools, and yesterday nine of them received grants ranging from $25,000 to $170,000.

"Education is the success that is going to get rid of the drugs and the poverty in our communities," said Dixon, who, with a gaggle of students, cut a red ribbon to celebrate the opening of the kitchen and cafeteria, a gleaming space filled with long tables, stainless-steel appliances and lime-green floor tiles.

Dixon announced in August that the city would use creative financing, including sale-leaseback deals, to build 10 schools over the next decade at a cost of about $250 million. Renovations to existing facilities, including those at charter schools, which receive public funding, were also included in the plan, according to city officials.

In sale-leaseback deals, private companies purchase or construct a building and then lease it back to the city for a set term. The city claims ownership once the lease is up. This type of financing is becoming more popular in city and county government.

In the next two weeks, city officials are expected to issue a request for proposals for a report that would outline different ideas for financing public projects such as school and recreation center construction and renovations, said Assistant Deputy Mayor Thomas J. Stosur, who also attended the cafeteria opening. He said that the city could also consider using tax increment financing to leverage funds for such projects.

Grant winners announced yesterday include the Baltimore International Academy, which will receive $25,000 for facility renovations; the City Neighborhoods Charter School, which will receive $170,000 to acquire an adjacent lot and make renovations; and the Green School, which will receive $117,500 for upgrades to its fitness center, among other renovations.

Administrators at Patterson Park Public Charter School said they will use a $100,000 grant to create an art center, gym and computer room in the same building as the cafeteria and kitchen. Before the school finished work on the cafeteria, students ate lunch in a courtyard that was covered with a large white tent, according to Principal Charles Kramer.

Kramer said the school needs more space to accommodate new students, including, he hopes, a pre-K program that could start on the next few years. Kramer said he has personal reasons for pushing for the pre-K program: His wife is expecting a baby in June. "I have someone at home who is lobbying pretty hard," he said, laughing.

Kramer said the school has an enrollment of about 460 children, from kindergarten to sixth grade, but he hopes to expand the enrollment to 550 in the near future. Classes for students in seventh and eighth grades could also be added.

The Northwood Appold Community Academy received a grant worth $117,500 for improvements to the school's restrooms and heating and air-conditioning system, said school founder Cecil C. Gray. "We're glad about it," he said of the grant.

Gray and his wife, Sonya Hunt Gray, who is vice president of the school's board, also attended the ribbon cutting at Patterson Park Public Charter School, at 27 N. Lakewood Ave. "It's an exciting time," said Sonya Hunt Gray.

Dixon said that by supporting charter schools, the city is also contributing to the education of future leaders. She said that besides great teachers and curriculum, all schools must also have first-class facilities. "You are the most important people in our lives," she said to the schoolchildren who attended the ribbon cutting. "It is our responsibility to make your lives better than ours."

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