March 11, 2010

You think your school system has it rough?

It seems like every school system is experiencing some type of economic woes this budget cycle. A number have been fortunate that they haven't had to close schools or cut jobs. The school district in Kansas City, Missouri is a different story.

Wednesday night the Kansas City School Board approved a plan that would close 28 of the school 61 schools and would eliminate 700 jobs. The changes would save the school system $50 million.

Wow! Could you imagine the elimination of such a huge chunk of schools and workforce? The morale there must be so low. I can only imagine the response from both staff, parents, and students.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:19 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, School Finance

May 21, 2009

More joining the ranks for cool air in Baltimore County schools

The quest for air conditioning continued during last night's public hearing on Baltimore County's capital budget for the 2011 fiscal year, with about a dozen people - including one shy but brave student - from Westowne Elementary and Ridgely Middle schools chiming in.

Parent after parent stepped up to the microphone to describe children feeling faint in their classrooms, or dealing with nausea, headaches and flushed faces dripping with sweat.  Several referred to Westowne's music room - apparently a very small space - as "the sauna," while others described the difficulty of working and moving around the building with special education students in "sweltering" conditions.

Last night's theme followed a rather heated exchange about the situation at Ridgely Middle, where parents have long been asking the district to do something about the high temperatures they've recorded in classrooms on hot days.

The middle school parents, who have organized a group called Friends of Ridgely, were sporting tags at yesterday's hearing that read: "103 degrees is NOT a Learning Environment."

Laura Mullen, whose daughter attends Ridgely, warned school officials that they weren't going away. 

I'm told to expect a rally drawing attention to this issue in the weeks ahead.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Finance

February 20, 2009

A victory for Baltimore, P.G. County schools in Annapolis

Gov. O'Malley announced this afternoon that he is withdrawing the changes in education funding formulas that would have hurt Baltimore and Prince George's County so badly. In 2012, they'll need to fight again over the distribution of payment for non-public placement for special education students. (The governor's proposal to shift the burden to the locals is deferred until then.) But otherwise -- and I'm still waiting for comment from Dr. Alonso -- it looks like the city schools are getting almost everything they asked for. With the influx of stimulus money, Baltimore will get $84 million more in FY10 than previously projected. Prince George's County will get $72 million more.

UPDATE: Here's our story with more specifics. And see below for the statement put out by the city school system tonight.

Continue reading "A victory for Baltimore, P.G. County schools in Annapolis" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:58 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, School Finance

January 30, 2009

Baltimore County school board on budget details

The Baltimore County school board’s work session last night focused a lot on the details in the $1.32 billion proposal for the 2010 fiscal year, as I noted in today’s story. Their interest in the small stuff reflected their awareness of tight financial times – and the limited funds at their discretion.

Member Meg O’Hare, in particular, observed that while the budget isn’t normally her forte, she’d made a point of examining it more closely this time around. She wanted to make sure that money was going toward things that have been proven to work – especially when it came to money allocated to elementary-school language arts. Many of her questions were about reading: 

Continue reading "Baltimore County school board on budget details " »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:20 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Finance

January 14, 2009

Baltimore County budget: let the season officially begin

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe Hairston has presented his proposed operating budget for the 2009-2010 school year.

One of the bigger items in the spending plan: long-sought pay increases for teachers (and all other school employees). Hairston calls for about $23.5 million to restructure employee salaries.  No word yet on what percent increase this would translate into for the individual, but this development should please many in the district.  The decision last year to provide no more than step increases was met with quite a bit of protest - and at last night's meeting, the teachers union again emphasized the need for salary increases.

Overall, Hairston is asking for about $74 million more than the current budget.  At a time when districts throughout the state are trying to figure out what exactly they can fund in these tight times, it will be interesting to see how this public portion of the budget cycle goes. Hairston said last night that the fiscal responsibility that BCPS exercised for the current budget has allowed the system to propose pay raises. But he also indicated that things on the revenue side remain uncertain. The state, for instance, has yet to decide what cuts in local funding might be coming.

Tonight is the public hearing - 7 p.m. at Ridge Ruxton School in Towson. Will keep you posted.

And btw: Carroll County Superintendent Charles Ecker is up next, with his own presentation tonight.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 8:16 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Finance

July 24, 2008

Swapping school funding models with D.C.?

The Washington Post reported yesterday about the unintended consequences of Chancellor Michelle Rhee's directive for art, music and physical education in all D.C. schools: There's not enough money for classroom teachers, and class sizes are going up as a result.

The article describes how Rhee -- who, like Dr. Alonso, just completed her first year on the job -- is changing the formula to fund Washington's public schools. Turns out, the city to our south is adopting a staffing-based model that sounds strikingly similar to the one we're scrapping in Baltimore, where schools have specific staff requirements.

Meanwhile, we're adopting a per-pupil model that resembles what Rhee is throwing away, where schools receive a certain amount of money for each child enrolled, plus more to accommodate for special student needs. According to the article, "Rhee contended that many schools were ill-served by the funding method. In her view, the system gave too much power to principals who sometimes made questionable staffing decisions. It also penalized some low-enrollment schools unable to generate sufficient per-pupil revenue to maintain quality academic programs."

Sound familiar? Those are precisely the things people in Baltimore have been worried about for the past four months since our new funding model was unveiled. Yet we've also heard about how inequitable funding was under the staffing-based model and how principals are powerless to make meaningful changes in their schools without some autonomy over their budgets.

So what's a school district to do? As with so many issues in urban education, it seems there are no clear solutions.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:01 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, School Finance

June 12, 2008

Things are heating up in Towson

Parents in the Towson area are hot under the collar after Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. decided yesterday that $12 million that had been budgeted for the expansion of Loch Raven High School will instead go toward other projects after the county school board unanimously voted to rescind its approval of the proposed addition (as reported in my story today).

Some have questioned why the money wouldn't instead be put toward adding air condition to the many schools that lack it. On Monday, Baltimore County closed all its schools three hours early because of the heat. While other counties closed a school here or there, Baltimore County closed all its schools because so many --- about half of them --- lack air conditioning that it made little sense to keep any of them open.

One community activist, Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, whose son attends Ridgely Middle School (which recently completed a $13 million renovation, but still lacks air conditioning), drove home this point in a WBAL radio interview this week:

"They need just $900,000 to add air conditioning," she said. "They now have windows that don't open at all or that open only six inches. The temperatures are 10 degrees hotter than it is outside."

On Smith's role, she added that his decision to put the $12 million into other projects without seeing whether the school board might support adding air conditioning to some of these school, "creates resentment."

"There's a feeling he is not thinking about the people in these schools, about the students and the teachers that are suffering much more with the lack of air conditioning, which is a health issue as well as an education issue, rather than repaving parking lots, loading dock replacements and footbridge replacements," Taylor-Mitchell said on the WBAL radio show.

In an interview yesterday, Smith said he is directing the $12 million toward these "site improvement" projects because the school board wants them done. He said the projects, part of a list that totals $20 million, were requested early in the budget process and only $2 million was able to be allocated for them. Scrapping the Loch Raven addition frees up that money, he said.

I have a call into the school system officials to find out if it would have been an option for the school board --- had they been consulted yesterday before Smith's decision --- to suggest using that freed up $12 million toward air conditioning projects in the coming year. Are there logistical or technical constraints? Is it as simple as, If only he had first asked the board what they wanted to do with the "found" money?

I'll update this post later with whatever response the school system is able to offer.


5:56 pm. Thursday --- I just finished talking to Kara Calder, spokeswoman for the school system. She confirmed that, to her knowledge, the county executive did not contact school system officials before announcing his decision yesterday.

As for whether the money could've instead been targeted at adding air condition to schools, Calder explained that before any changes (such as adding projects not previously equested) could be made to the school system's capital improvements program list of projects for the fiscal year that starts July 1, all parties --- meaning the school board, county executive and county council --- would have to agree.

About the projects that Smith has recommended, Calder said, "The site improvements are much-needed projects. Some have been carried over for two or three years. There are definitely some significant needs there."

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:48 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Finance, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

June 5, 2008

High expectations in Baltimore County

Shortly after this week's news that the Baltimore County school system has the fourth-highest graduation rate among the nation's 50 largest school districts, I caught up with county schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston at the Community College of Baltimore County in Essex. (See today's article.)

Hairston was there with a group of eighth-graders from Golden Ring Middle School, as part of a partnership between the school system and the community college to encourage the kids to start thinking about, and planning for, college.

While pleased with the county's graduation rate, he grew serious as he talked about the challenges that the school system faces to keep that high ranking. Not for the sake of rankings, but because of what those rankings represent, he said --- stability and effectiveness.

That means building strong programs at the elementary school level that will send students onto middle school ready for challenging courses that will prepare them for advance work in high school, he said. Middle school students have to come to the table with a solid foundation, ready to start thinking about their futures. He said he worries about the "bottle-neck" that is produced at the middle school level when too many students arrive behind grade level. But, he said, middle school is not the time to try to teach elementary-school concepts.

Hairston said he understands that some people may be worried about his plans to stop giving its middle schools federal Title I money that is aimed at schools with high concentrations of low-income students. (Click here for Wednesday's article on this news.) He said he understands that it sounds like he is taking away precious resources from the middle schools. But I think he summed it up best with these remarks:

"Spending (Title I) money for kids at the middle school level doesn't help if they are in eighth grade reading at the third-grade level. It makes more sense to invest that money in the elementary schools so those students don't get behind."

I've talked to some national education advocates, who seem to generally agree with Hairston's line of thinking. What are you thoughts?

Posted by Gina Davis at 8:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore County, School Finance

February 15, 2008

Should superintendent get a raise?

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston was recently reappointed as chief of the 105,000-student school system, but at least one local legislator is hoping Hairston isn't in line for pay raise.

Republican Del. Pat McDonough, who represents parts of Baltimore and Harford counties, says "these are tough economic times," and it would be irresponsible to give a raise to Hairston, who earns about $260,000 annually. In a recently circulated letter, McDonough asked fellow Baltimore County legislators to support this "hold the line" approach.

No doubt many of the county's 9,000 teachers might favor McDonough's suggestion -- Hairston's recently proposed $1.18 billion operating budget for the coming school year included no raises for teachers.

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:01 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Finance

January 18, 2008

Millions proposed for school building projects

"Investing in education," is how Wilson Parran put it. He's the president of the Calvert County commissioners. Parran was at Western School of Technology and Environmental Science in Catonsville to hear Gov. Martin O'Malley talk about the proposal to spend $333 million on school renovation and construction projects in the coming year. Other education, state and county leaders, including Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, also joined the governor for a tour of the school, which is slated to receive nearly $900,000 in the coming school year for a new roof.

"If we expect a lot of our children, they should expect a lot of us," Parran told me. "We have to invest in the infrastructure of schools. We have to put our money where our mouth is."

An independent audit last year of Baltimore County school system's education plan unexpectedly pointed out the effect of aging buildings. The auditors said they were shocked to find some of the schools in as bad of a condition as they did. County and school officials routinely stress that the system has the 2nd oldest stock of school buildings in the state.

Without realizing it, Brittany Cole, a 17-year-old senior at Western Tech, echoed the audit's rationale on deteriorating school buildings --- it's hard to concentrate when you're too hot or too cold.

"I think a new roof will give the school better insulation," she said hopefully.

So, teachers, parents, students ... what needs fixing at your school?

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:48 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, School Finance

December 14, 2007

A principal problem

In my story today, I write about a new study that found middle schools with the greatest needs in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Prince George's counties had the least experienced principals and suffer from high turnover among principals.

The study was done by the Advocates for Children and Youth, a Baltimore-based nonprofit. It looked at middle schools with the highest poverty rates and lowest test scores in the three jurisdictions. It made several disturbing revelations:

In Baltimore City alone, nine of the 10 middle schools that the study examined had at least one change in principal --- and eight of them experienced two or more changes --- from 2003 to 2007. Half of the schools had three or more new principals during that time.

In Baltimore County, where 10 of the district's 27 middle schools were examined, half had at least one change in principal and 20 percent had two or more changes during the five-year period.

And nearly 80 percent of the middle schools evaluated in Prince George's County had at least one change in principal, and one school went through five principals, in the five years.

Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore had four principals during the study's period, while Golden Ring Middle School in Baltimore County has had three.

While some may quibble with whether bonuses are the answer, most everyone agrees that turning around a failing school takes energy and time --- and commitment. The bottom line, it seems, is that school systems need to give the leaders of its most challenging schools a reason to stick around long enough to make a difference.

Or, as Terrylynn Tyrell, the ACY's education director, put it:

"Its a matter of paying now, or paying later. The cost is so much smaller if we pay now."

Click here to read the ACY's full report.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

November 7, 2007

Opposite views on the O'Malley budget bill

Reporting on an issue as complex and political as Thornton funding, it's hard to please anyone.

In response to my story Monday, the governor's office wanted to point out 1) that Maryland's public schools got record funding increases from the state for the current academic year, raising the bar for all future funding and 2) that Governor O'Malley's budget package exceeds a "hold harmless" provision for education requested in a letter last month by Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon. A hold harmless provision would ensure that schools don't receive less than they did this year, and the governor's staff says the budget bill goes beyond that by guaranteeing at least a 1 percent funding increase for the next two years.

On the flip side, education advocates say my story didn't go far enough to make the case that the 1 percent increase really doesn't mean anything because most of the money goes toward teacher retirement, which the state must fund anyway (for now).

I'm printing below a letter that landed in my inbox, written by David Merkowitz, executive director of the Prince George’s Business-Education Alliance, and sent to members of the General Assembly. While written specifically about the impact that the governor's budget bill would have on Prince George's County schools, it essentially summarizes the concerns I'm hearing from educators around the state. The letter says that Prince George's Superintendent John Deasy has instructed his staff to prepare an alternative budget for the 2008-2009 school year preparing for a worst-case scenario, in which that district would see $65 million of cuts. I wonder how many other superintendents have started engaging in such an exercise. (The letter is reprinted with Merkowitz's permission.)

Continue reading "Opposite views on the O'Malley budget bill" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:24 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, School Finance

November 5, 2007

What classrooms would get in O'Malley's budget package

As I reported in my story today, much of the 1 percent funding increase that Gov. O’Malley has promised to schools in his budget package would be spent on teacher pensions. Direct classroom aid would be virtually flat or even decline slightly. Thirteen districts could receive more money from the geographic cost-of-living index, which O'Malley says he wants to fund, but that’s not guaranteed in the language of the legislation.

According to the fiscal note attached to the governor's bill, here's the direct aid that Baltimore-area jurisdictions would receive before the geographic index.

Anne Arundel County: $266.2 million this year, $264.5 million next year 
Baltimore City: $832.7 million this year, $833.3 million next year
Baltimore County: $509.5 million this year, $510.3 million next year 
Carroll County: $141.1 million this year, $140.8 million next year 
Harford County: $207.1 million this year, $206.3 million next year
Howard County: $183.3 million this year, $185.7 million next year
Statewide total: $4.60 billion this year, $4.64 billion next year 

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, School Finance

October 31, 2007

The Baltimore school system vs. Martin O'Malley

The state's $1.7 billion budget shortfall has left Gov. O'Malley proposing to curb legally mandated school funding increases based on inflation. And, as I report today, the governor is quickly losing his allies in the Baltimore school system, which he fought so hard to protect as mayor. School board chairman Brian Morris, a longtime friend, told a joint committee in Annapolis yesterday to keep their hands off education funding. When the city school system had a $58 million deficit a few years back, Morris said, he and his board managed to make all the cuts (including 1,000 layoffs three weeks before Christmas) at the central office without hurting individual schools directly. He told the legislators they should have similar "non-negotiables."

New city schools chief Andres Alonso, who's made it clear he does not care to play politics, didn't mince words when he appeared before the joint committee: He said O'Malley's proposal would result in a $131 budget shortfall for the city schools over three years. Click below to read his full written testimony, submitted in addition to his oral comments. Interesting statistics he provides on education funding as a percentage of median household income. Maryland doesn't fare so well.

On a side note, it's funny how power is relative... I'm used to seeing Morris and Alonso at school system headquarters, where everyone does as they say. Yesterday, they were caught in a line outside the Department of Legislative Services building, which had run out of seats in the hearing room 15 minutes before the event was to begin. I was eventually allowed in despite my lack of State House press credentials, but it made no difference when Morris and Alonso told the guards who they were. They were stuck outside with everyone else until their turn came to testify.

Continue reading "The Baltimore school system vs. Martin O'Malley" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:20 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, School Finance

October 15, 2007

A fight ahead over Thornton

Liz's story Saturday touched on what's bound to be a hot issue in Maryland education in the coming months: what happens now that the $2 billion provided by Thornton has been phased in. I went to the city schools' legislative forum last week. Though it was sparsely attended (only around 20 people), those who were there -- including five school board members, the head of the city's Parent and Community Advisory Board and the education director of the ACLU -- vowed a quick mobilization to lobby for the continued inflation increases that the law currently requires. Otherwise, they warn, schools will face millions of dollars in program cuts.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, School Finance
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