What's behind the city's budget pain
Martin O'Malley was not a popular guy at last night's city school board budget work session, where details were provided on at least $21 million in proposed new state cuts, maybe more depending on whose documents are in hand. Board chair Brian Morris, an ally of O'Malley when the governor was mayor, called it "outrageous" and "absurd" and "very, very hurtful" that the state would put the city schools in such a position. Dr. Alonso said that, when the two neediest districts in the state (Baltimore and Prince George's) take the bulk of the cuts, "something smells." And board member George VanHook called the state action "unacceptable" and "unconscionable." He says that unless the city schools stand up for themselves, "we will continue to get what we have always gotten."
The governor is fighting back today, reaffirming his commitment to funding education. But given that state funding of city schools has never met the official definition of adequacy, I could see the Bradford school funding case ending up back in court if these cuts stand.
O'Malley and Alonso spoke this morning, and Alonso asked him to reconsider how the funding formulas are calculated so as not to disproportionately hurt the neediest districts.
There are three major factors contributing to the city schools' budget pain:
1) O'Malley proposes changing the payment structure when severely disabled students require private school placements. Right now, the state pays 80 percent of the cost and local school districts pay 20 percent. The proposal is to change to 50-50.
2) O'Malley proposes a reduction of the phase-in of GCEI, or Thornton's geographic cost index, which gives more money to school districts with a high cost of living. He might also take back GCEI money for the current year.
3) While the governor says he's leaving the base allocation to schools the same, he's now including in that base the cost of teacher pensions, which the state continues to cover in its own budget.