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We can trust Santelises to manage Baltimore schools' funds

Baltimore City schools CEO Sonja Santelises is prepared to lay off more than 1,000 employees, from classroom teachers to custodians, in order to close a $130 million budget gap. (Emma Patti Harris/Baltimore Sun video)

For every dollar Baltimore dedicates to fund schools this year, the State contributes $3.27 of Maryland taxpayer dollars. And there's good reason — the state has a constitutional requirement to provide an adequate education for all students, no matter the wealth of the district.

Two decades of reform have enabled the system to establish financial stability and transparency, advance special education services, improve the quality of teachers and instruction, return money to schools, and reduce system waste. But budget cuts in recent years have been met with short-term fixes instead of structural changes. Because Maryland citizens contribute a larger proportion to Baltimore schools, we are entitled to assurance that the money is well spent. Yet in recent years, we have lacked a leader with vision and commitment, ready to lead our school system.

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Sonja Santelises is the right leader at the right time as CEO of city schools. With deliberate transparency and a proven commitment to young people in Baltimore, Ms. Santelises stands tall in welcoming accountability for results.

Ms. Santelises brings a decades-long track record of improving schools. Her plan will build a functional and healthy school system worthy of Maryland's investment. Ms. Santelises spent her first months on a listening tour across Baltimore communities. She has committed to continued investment in early childhood programming with proven results. She has facilitated a district-wide rollout of consistent reading strategies and adjusted the student discipline policy based on community input. Faced with a crippling budget deficit, she responded with unprecedented transparency through the engage.baltimorecityschools.org website. She has made a long-term commitment to our young people, city and state, and she consistently makes decisions with a long-term perspective.

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Faced with a $41 million state cut and a $130 million budget gap seven months into her tenure, Ms. Santelises has insisted on permanent budget solutions to a structural deficit instead of continuing the previous practice of one-year budget fixes. She has kept all negotiating parties at the table and remained steadfast in prioritizing young people as the No. 1 interest group in our city.

In coming weeks, state officials will consider measures to close the funding gap for City Schools. Marylanders can trust the integrity, intention and implementation of restored state funding in the hands of Sonja Santelises. We've been waiting for the right leader for our city Schools — Ms. Santelises is that leader, and let's hope she's here to stay. State and city leaders would be wise to seize this moment and work with this partner.

Joshua Michael, Baltimore

The writer is a former teacher in city schools and now works with the Sherman STEM Teacher Scholars Program at UMBC.

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