Last Thursday, when thousands of students, teachers and parents rallied in Annapolis to ask state leaders to help fix the $130 million budget gap for Baltimore’s public schools, Mayor Pugh made a promise to the crowd that she’d have a solution to announce by Monday.
Yesterday, as promised, the mayor went to Lawyers Mall in Annapolis to make her announcement alongside the city’s representatives in the General Assembly and City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises at 4:15 p.m. However, what Baltimore’s education advocates heard wasn’t what they had hoped for.
“What we want everybody to know is that we do believe in the future of our children. And we’ve had discussions over the last few days, and actually the last month or so, around what we must do as a city and as a state to ensure the success of our children,” she said, per a video from Charm City TV.
She went on to say that Baltimore will need more than a one-year fix to eliminate the dark cloud of its structural deficit for schools. She listed several reasons the odds are stacked against the city, such as old facilities, decades of lead paint poisoning and the psychological toll all of this has on students.
Pugh said that she and other officials are asking for help — the same reason people gathered in Annapolis in the first place on Thursday — but what she didn’t present was a plan or any details about an agreement reached with lawmakers in the General Assembly or Gov. Larry Hogan.
“We come here to Annapolis today to say, ‘We need help,’” Pugh said. She added that the city does “not yet know what the governor’s commitment will be,” in monetary terms.
Santelises also spoke at the presser. “The sooner we can get the commitment, the sooner we can get our bridge in place, the sooner we can really continue the full focus in moving the school system,” she said, per WBAL.
The school system’s present deficit is threatening layoffs of 1,000 staff members, including teachers, as well as large cuts to student programs and increased class sizes. Basically, without an increased commitment from the state and the city, public schools in Baltimore stand to continue suffering in the near future.
The mayor didn’t discuss how much the city government can commit to filling in the gap. She said they’re waiting on Hogan’s administration to reveal how much they can contribute.
Baltimore residents, media included, were quick to point out the absence of a real announcement on social media:
Breaking News: The mayor held a press conference to announce a plan to help close @BaltCitySchools $130M budget gap & there was no plan.
— Erica L. Green (@EricaLG) February 27, 2017
So @MayorPugh50 I love you as a Mayor but still haven't gotten clarity on this plan for Baltimore Public Schools!
— Keion Dorsey (@KD4U2011) February 27, 2017
So $130 mil city schools funding shortfall still looms..feels like mayor, legis, and governor waiting to see who blinks
— Jayne Miller (@jemillerwbal) February 27, 2017
Mayor said her commitment to schools is over a three year period… What is the commitment?!?
— Melissa (@melissa_schober) February 27, 2017
Meanwhile, school principals, lawmakers and activists held a rally yesterday at City Hall in Baltimore repeating the call for more money to address the shortfall. Children stood in front of the podium holding signs, chanting, “Fix the gap!” and parents and principals spoke one-by-one of the need for more funding.
“As a City Schools principal, there is always a certain level of anxiety and stress that comes with every budget season,” said Ashley Cook, principal at the Mt. Washington School, per a video shared by Councilman Zeke Cohen. She described how when she received her school’s budget earlier this month, she saw that it was getting a 21 percent reduction in funding for next fiscal year.
“These drastic cuts have forced our school communities to have conversations on prioritizing basic rights and opportunities for our children, something we should never be forced into doing,” Cook said.
Councilman Zeke Cohen said the deficit wasn’t about eroding buildings or fiscal mismanagement. Rather, he said, it’s “caused by our collective failure to prioritize our youth during budgeting.” He also called out the dearth of school funding derived from casinos, a perk that the state promised when it first allowed them to operate around Maryland.
BUILD and others plan to hold another rally tonight outside the Baltimore City School Board’s meeting at 6 p.m. at district headquarters, located at 200 E. North Avenue.
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