The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

One more budget crisis in Baltimore's public schools

Jan 22, 2001

Mid-December it was announced that Baltimore city schools faced a deficit of 22 million dollars. In early January, an audit showed a bigger deficit of 36 million dollars. Last year there was a similar budget crisis. School chief Carmen Russo has been on a media blitz, declaring that whatever cuts need to be made, the quality of education would not be affected. She pledged not to touch money spent on instruction, teachers or classrooms.

Then came the list of cuts: 100 layoffs of temporary custodial workers; suppression of 38 vacant positions in the repair shop and engineers; eliminating six central administrative positions. Custodial cuts were carried out immediately. The last day of work for 100 custodians was January 5.

While Russo made light of these cuts, the impact of custodial-and-building-related cuts and permanent vacancies is not negligible. Principals and teachers are the first to say that when classrooms, hallways and bathrooms are not kept up properly, it affects the morale of the entire school.

Even if teachers weren't directly cut, neither were more teachers hired. And the schools are woefully short of teachers.

A school board member expressing frustration, said "$50,000 buys us a good teacher –and I want money for teachers. It drives this board nuts when we don't have money to give the kids what they deserve." The deteriorating public school system drives teachers and parents and students nuts, too.

The real question is why there is this constant crisis and haggling over budget deficits in Baltimore's public school system. Why isn't there adequate money to ensure the funding of quality education for all Baltimore children and teenagers in the public schools?

There is plenty of money in and around Baltimore. But it boils down to what those in power deem priorities. Cranes are operating up and down east Harbor Place as far as the eye can see with development projects. Each company has been rewarded by the city to the tune of millions of dollars in tax breaks and money for infrastructure –while school officials search for ways to scrimp and save to make ends meet on their already insufficient 850 million dollar budget.

When developers Paterakis or Marriott or Angelos or Rouse ask for multi-million dollar tax break for their latest projects, city officials never say to them, "Sorry, we can't afford that now. We need the money for our schools. First things first."

You bet they don't. Clearly, providing a good education for the children of the working class and poor is not one of their priorities.