Baltimore City Public Schools Still Letting Down Their Students

Maryland’s Democrats love to rail about K-12 education funding. They particularly love to continue the fable about Governor Larry Hogan underfunding public schools, even though he’s funded K-12 education at record funding levels.

So I’m really looking forward to Maryland Democrats railing against the incompetence of the Baltimore City Public Schools:

The Baltimore school system is facing a $129 million deficit in next fiscal year’s budget, city schools CEO Sonja Santelises said Wednesday, the largest gap in recent years.

School officials have been grappling with declining enrollment and increasing operating costs….

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…..The deficit represents more than 10 percent of Baltimore City Public Schools’ $1.2 billion budget. It’s more than double the $60 million gap the school system closed last year.

It comes just six months before the school system needs to set a spending plan to begin July 1, and as school officials brace for the start of the 2017 General Assembly session, when lawmakers will set the state budget, and 75 percent of the city school system’s budget.

You’ll notice that this is becoming a trend. Year after year after year, Baltimore City Public Schools are facing deficits in the millions upon millions of dollars. That doesn’t even take into account the $68 million of funding that just plain went missing

As we’ve noted before, public education is one of the few constitutionally required responsibilities that states and localities have. For that reason, it’s going to again fall to the taxpayers in Maryland’s 23 other counties to provide stop-gap funding for the deficit. That’s millions of dollars that won’t be available to public schools in other jurisdictions. And remember that your state tax dollars are already funding this boondoggle; Baltimore City contributes less local funding to public education than all but one county and 72% of public school funding comes directly from the state budget. It’s the money of all Marylanders that’s being mismanaged in the city.

For the sake of comparison, the current Baltimore City Public Schools deficit is almost two-and-a-half times the size of the entire budget for Garrett County Public Schools.

That’s why it’s imperative that a few basic questions get answered before moving forward with bailing out city schools.

  • For City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises: You’re new to the job and have noted that this problem is not new and that stop gap measures have been used for years; what steps are you taking right now to get the budget situation under control in future years to make sure this deficit never happens again? Have corrective actions been taken in the wake of the 2012 audit? What protective measures are you putting in place to ensure that state funds are being used for their designated purpose.
  • For the Baltimore City Board of Education:Why has the Board not taken corrective, permanent measures to end these deficits already? Why should the Governor, legislators, and taxpayers continue to trust you when you have failed to budget responsibly year after year after year?
  • For City Democrats: Delegate Maggie McIntosh believes that the teacher’s union should come back to the table and renegotiate their contract in order to help alleviate some of the fiscal pressure; are you willing to allow Democrats to support this type of plan, or are you going to bow before pressure to your union bosses?
  • For Union leaders: Are you willing to be part of the solution to this fiscal crisis, or are you going to dig in your heels and remain part of the problem?
  • For Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh: What steps are you taking to increase the city tax base? Are you committed to ensuring that further actions that artificially limit the city tax base, such as Port Covington, are no longer viable?

Baltimore City schools have lagged behind our other county schools for so very long. There is no jurisdiction in the state, and arguably few in the country, that need an improved public school system more than Baltimore. The fact that leaders in the city public schools have failed year after year to adequately manage their money is both damning and a damn shame. City school leaders have continually let down every student that has walked through the doors of a Baltimore City Public School due to their incompetence and mismanagement.

State funding will invariably be used to fund the deficit due to the constitutional nature of the education requirement. But at some point drastic steps, including a full state takeover of public schools, must be considered to protect students and to protect the taxpayers money. What’s happening in city schools is embarrassing and it’s unacceptable. And while nobody has been held accountable to date, there’s no better time to start than right now.

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