Alonso braces school board for tough decisions
Baltimore City schools CEO Andres Alonso and his chief financial officer engaged members of the city school board Tuesday in an intense debate about policy and funding decisions that are imminent in light of the forecast of a tough budget season.
In a school board work session attended by board members and a host of city staff at North Avenue, school officials discussed the history and future of the district's Fair Student Funding model -- a per-pupil-funding program launched under the schools chief -- which may shake out to not be so "fair" if, at the very least, a proposed 5 percent funding cut to education at the state level comes to pass this year.
In anticipation of a cut to education funding, Alonso urged, "the board needs to determine a theory of action ... and be comfortable about what [the funding cut] means."
For example, he said, the 5 percent cut translates to a roughly $45 million hit to the city school budget. Alonso told the board during the 2 1/2-hour discussion that the money would have to come from the schools, he said.
By definition, the schools chief said, schools will have a smaller per-pupil allotment, aside from other variables (such as enrollment) that already determine a schools' budget under the Fair Student Funding model. If the $45 million cut was passed down, schools could receive $600,000 less than last year. To any school that could mean losing 6 to 7 teachers, larger class sizes, or the preservation of class sizes at the expense of supplemental programs such as enrichment initiatives.
"We will be at a point where hard trade-offs needs to be made," Alonso told board members. "And we need to know that consequences of those trade-offs."
The Fair Student Funding program allots a baseline funding amount for every student in the district, and additional funding for students who have disabilities, fall behind in achievement, are advanced or are at risk for dropping out. When the school board passed its $1.23 billion budget last year, every student received about $5,000, and additional weights ranged from $641 for special education students to $1,500 for basic and advanced students.
The preliminary recommendations for the fiscal year 2012 budget are to maintain the same levels for additional funding. But that means that other tough decisions would have to be made.
Alonso asked the board to make the following considerations:
1. The school system has 16 schools with less than 250 students, a number that has starkly increased since 2009-2010 when only nine schools has such few students. Under the per-pupil funding model, coupled with other potential budget cuts, this puts those schools at a disadvantage. Should the school system make an exception for funding small schools?
2. Should city schools' Title I dollars be distributed across more schools with a smaller allocation to each or across fewer schools with a larger allocation to each?
3. Should funding for pre-kindergarten programs be distributed across city schools with a smaller allocation to each or across fewer schools with a larger allocation to each?
4. Should locked funds be appropriated to schools for the specific purpose of enrichment programming, given the potential impact on class size and other academic programming?