Bailing out Baltimore Schools

Article excerpt


Back in April 1997, the Maryland General Assembly passed Senate Bill 795, which dictated what was supposed to have been a sweeping package of fiscal reforms for the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPS). In exchange for $254 million in additional state funding, the legislature passed, and Gov. Parris Glendening signed into law, a 50-page bill ordering changes in the way Baltimore schools operate. These included a new nine-member Board of School Commissioners jointly appointed by the mayor and governor. Yet, with more funds, a huge drop in enrollment and additional oversight, Baltimore schools remain as troubled as ever - and are in need of another state bailout.

"Architects of the reform were to entrust a $700 million budget, 14,000 employees, 182 schools, and 109,000 children to these managers with top-flight backgrounds,"according to the BCPS Web site. "Willingness to use the state's wealth to help the city was sheer prudence - for the sake of the children. What could be more important than that [?]"

Seven years later, the 90,000-student system remains in chaos. With an $894 million operating budget, it has run up a $116 million cumulative deficit since the 1997 reforms - including a $58 million budget gap that must be closed to pay bills before June 30. None of this should have come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the way the system handles the taxpayers' money. "Accountability in the budget process is weak to the point of non-existent," the Greater Baltimore Committee noted in a report last year. …