THE O'MALLEY BUDGET'S IMPACT ON SCHOOLS

The Baltimore Sun

I just completed my first semester as a teacher in the Baltimore schools, and I consider this an accomplishment that unrivaled by anything else I have ever done.

My students are inspirational, amazing future leaders of this city and world. They deserve my all and the state's best resources.

But to my dismay, Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed budget for next fiscal year would result in more than $23 million in funding cuts for city schools ("Cuts 'devastating' to local schools," Jan. 23). This is unacceptable.

For the first time in four decades, there has been an increase in enrollment in the city schools. The students have shown signs of improvement in their standardized tests and in their maturity levels.

The audacity of hope and the message of change offered by President Barack Obama have inspired city students to believe that anything is possible. However, "anything" is much more attainable when resources are available. And what message are we sending our students if we tell them to dream big dreams but do not give them the tools they need?

The common response I hear to such concerns is that we are all hurting, so Baltimore's schools must understand that everyone needs to take a hit. Well, then, why would Montgomery County receive a $27 million increase in funding under the governor's proposed budget? That is a 6.4 percent increase in funding while the state funding for Baltimore's schools will be decreased by 2.8 percent.

As a former mayor of Baltimore, Mr. O'Malley should not be leaving Baltimore schools behind.

David Donaldson, Baltimore

The writer is a teacher at Baltimore's Maryland Academy of Technology and Health Science.

I found two headlines in Friday's paper a particularly striking juxtaposition. On one hand, state aid to local schools is being cut by $69 million, which we are told will be "devastating"; on the other, the Johns Hopkins University just finished an eight-year fund drive that raised $3.7 billion ("Hopkins wraps up fund drive with $3.7 billion," Jan. 23).

The $69 million in proposed cuts to local school districts is equivalent to about 2 percent of the amount Johns Hopkins raised.

The Maryland public schools system serves more students, most of whom have fewer means, than Johns Hopkins does. So surely there is some way for the state to tap the resources that are, apparently, out there for education?

Should the state start its own endowment fund for public schools for which big and small donations alike could be solicited? Should private universities be required to use some of their endowments to aid public education in the communities they serve?

Should an extra education tax be added as a line item to the current tax form to ensure that schools have a dedicated flow of revenue and assure taxpayers that their taxes aren't disappearing into the general fund?

Some creative thinking should be able to help fix the disastrous situation in Maryland's most strapped public schools.

Josh Fruhlinger, Baltimore

It would not only be unjust to strip $23 million in public school funding from the neediest jurisdiction in the state while providing a $27 million windfall to the most affluent county in the state, it would also be a poor business practice.

For the first time in recent memory, enrollment in Baltimore schools is increasing, achievement is improving, system leadership is strong and professional parents who have a choice about where they live and where they send their kids to school are giving Baltimore and its public schools a chance.

I know - my family is among those giving the system a chance.

This movement, and it is nothing less, is one that fiscally intelligent lawmakers should seize upon and bolster. Investing in the city school system's nascent success offers a cost-effective route for Maryland to simultaneously build Baltimore's tax base and improve the quality of its schools, an investment that will reduce the city's drain on state resources over the long term.

In addition to taking services from the students who most need them, the proposed rollbacks in funding would demoralize this fledgling movement, impede the recent hard-won successes of teachers, students, parents and administrators and cause families with a choice to look elsewhere.

It is clearly in the short- and long-term economic interest of Maryland to build on the momentum of city schools rather than to crush it.

Let's not look back on this moment as the one missed opportunity we had to create a strong and viable public school system in Baltimore.

Let's urge the governor and state lawmakers to restore funding for the Baltimore schools.

Rebecca Gershenson Smith, Baltimore

The writer is the founder of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance.

The proposed education budget cuts for some of Maryland's poorest counties show poor timing.

Under the governor's proposed budget, the schools in Baltimore and in Prince George's County would lose nearly $59 million. Meanwhile, the state's richest counties, Montgomery County and Howard County, would have their funding increased by $28 million.

There was a time when Annapolis could vote to underserve the poorest counties. Back then, many families in the city were not participating in the city schools because the system was unresponsive. But the times they are a changin' because now the public school system is in the midst of a beautiful transformation.

Now city parents have access to schools of choice with varying levels of autonomy. There are close to 30 charter schools in the city and 15 more transformation schools, and 10 innovation schools. Even the traditional "system" schools are getting site-based management and more power at the school level over how funds are spent.

The schools of Baltimore are expanding, integrating and rising up. And there is a growing and organized force of creative, inspired, dedicated parents and educators who are thinking, dreaming and working tirelessly to make our schools serve our children.

Now Annapolis is dealing with public schools that are filled with people all organized around an ideal, and the city schools have a visionary leader, CEO Andres Alonso, who is willing to make tough decisions, and who believes in all of us and in the capacity of our children.

From the State House to the rowhouse, we must support him.

Ten years ago, Gov. Martin O'Malley, who was then the mayor of Baltimore, invited the "creative class" into the city.

We came. We got organized.

The governor is a creative person. He needs to find another way.

Bobbi Macdonald, Baltimore

The writer is president of the City Neighbors Charter School and co-chairwoman of the Coalition of Baltimore Charter Schools.

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