Still via video from YouTube/CharmTV

Mayor Catherine Pugh touched on a breadth of issues plaguing Baltimore in her inaugural “State of the City” address yesterday. One of her key points concerned the troubled state of Baltimore’s school system, which she said needs to be uplifted on a school-by-school basis by community members and private entities.

Mayor Pugh brought up the subject of community involvement in schools by posing a question: “What is the difference between the [Baltimore] School for the Arts, Green Street Academy, City Neighbors and the Baltimore Design School from other schools in Baltimore?”

The answer, she said, is that all four of those schools have their own boards of directors that direct their future and can help secure funding from private sources.

“Every school in Baltimore should have a board of directors who care about the future of our children and are willing to give of their time, talent and resources,” she said. “I challenge the citizens of Baltimore to provide that same support for every school in Baltimore. Those who have and will accept this challenge are the leaders that should serve on our school board because they believe in the possibilities of our students.”

At present, most schools have parent-teacher organizations (PTOs), and City Schools also has some private-public partnerships with foundations to connect individual schools with business partners. One example is the PENCIL Foundation.

One Baltimore City Schools principal, who asked to remain anonymous, said appointing a board of directors for each school could help with fundraising efforts.

“It could be helpful,” the principal said. “We could share ownership.”

The process of appointing a board of directors on a school-by-school basis would also depend on how each candidate is vetted, the principal said. The four schools Mayor Pugh mentioned were designed with a specific focus, such as art or design, rather than a focus on general education, the principal noted, adding that it could be a tougher task to find a board for each general-purpose school.

Pugh has a personal investment in this realm. She co-founded the Baltimore Design School in Greenmount West five years ago when she was a state senator and served as its board chair.

This type of collaboration between private entities and the public schools themselves is key to their success, she said. “I challenge the citizens of Baltimore to provide that same support for every school in Baltimore. Those who have and will accept this challenge are the leaders that should serve on our school board because they believe in the possibilities of our students.”

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, a member of the Youth and Education Committee, said in a phone interview that she supports Pugh’s idea.

“Basically what it sounds like is a group of citizens who have gathered together for the joint purpose of being of support to a school, both financially and socially and culturally,” she said. “If that’s what she means, I think it’s a great idea.”

Clarke said other school groups like PTOs would need to remain in place.

“It’s not to replace the groups that are operating already within a school, but it’s to put that layer of almost guardian angel-ship,” she said. “Not to run the school, but to help support the school running itself effectively.”

The mayor is working to close a massive structural deficit for Baltimore City Schools as enrollment has declined in the last several years. After weeks of promises from officials and rallies from concerned teachers, parents and students, Pugh and State Del. Maggie McIntosh of Baltimore announced last week that they found room in the state and city budgets for $180 million combined over the next three years, split almost down the middle between the city and state.

Still, even with that money for next school year, the school system is still facing a $70 million budget gap that could require teacher and staff layoffs, program funding cuts and other negative consequences.

Gov. Larry Hogan has criticized the school system for financial mismanagement and has not publicly committed to filling the rest of the deficit. However, Pugh and McIntosh both said they received assurances from the governor and Senate President Mike Miller that they would help find the money as the General Assembly hashes out a state budget for next year.

Pugh, city council members and others have struck down the notion that the deficit is a result of financial mismanagement. “Our city schools have a structural deficit, so does our city, state and country,” Pugh said yesterday. “However, the city has an AA bond rating because we have managed the revenue and obligations of our city with fiscal controls.”

The first-term mayor has also proposed a measure to shake up the appointment process for the city’s school board. At present, Baltimore’s mayor and Maryland’s governor work together to pick the school board, and the state school board assembles the candidate pool. Mayor Pugh’s bill would cede control of appointment over to her office and would establish a new panel to create a pool of candidates.

The Senate passed the bill yesterday and now awaits a vote in the House of Delegates.

Mayor Pugh’s address touched upon many other subjects, including the need for more police officers, the problem of swollen police overtime, a dearth of economic development in poor, crime-riddled communities, public health, homelessness and other opportunities for private investment in the city.

This story has been updated with comment from Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...