How much is too much and when will we know?

How much will additional charter school seats cost the school system?  We don’t know.

How many additional charter seats will be added and at what point will their unknown funding formula become unsustainable?  We don’t know.

Does our school board have the power to manage charter expansion without contributing to the closure of neighborhood schools and a system-wide budget crisis?  According to the board chair, no.

In the midst of voting on charter school applications late into last night’s school board meeting, Board Chair Marnell Cooper told members it would be “illegal” to deny an application because of any potential adverse impact on city schools’ budget.

Earlier in the meeting, People for Public Schools re-presented our letter to the Board, with additional signers, urging the Board to deny charter applications while the charter funding formula is the subject of litigation and potential legislative action.

We wrote:

“Traditional school parents, community members, teachers and staff deserve to know the costs to their schools of the founding of a new charter school, a charter expansion, or a conversion of an existing traditional school to a public charter school – as well as the startup and incremental costs of any combination of these events. Everyone in the school system deserves to know how these fundamental shifts will affect our schools. The Board has a fiduciary responsibility to project the impact of new charter schools on surrounding schools and the school system as a whole.

“In light of current circumstances, it is impossible for the Board to meet that obligation. BCPSS is engaged in a lawsuit over charter school funding, and the acceptability of the funding formula the school system uses is in question. Not until the lawsuit is resolved and an equitable funding formula is affirmed should the school system seriously consider adding more charter schools or increasing the number of charter school seats.”

Speaking to the Board, we said:

“We appreciate the Public Charter Schools Policy:  Compliance Report Review that was presented to the Board at the last month’s meeting.  There were some important, but not surprising, details in the report, including that newly created charter schools serve a lower-than-average percentage of students eligible for free and reduced meals, and that traditional schools serve proportionally more high-needs students with disabilities.

“What seems to be missing from this review, however, is what we are asking for in the letter we submitted last month and which we resubmit today with additional signers.

“What is the impact of new charter school applications, conversion applications, and charter expansion applications on the enrollment and funding of existing neighborhood schools?

“The district conducted just such an analysis of the Montessori Public Charter School’s application for a Geographic Attendance Area waiver and found approval of their waiver request would threaten the very existence of Dallas Nicholas.

“The GAA waiver request was handled carefully by the school system, but on the basis of that individual situation.  It is not the only example of charter expansion threatening the existence of traditional schools – and it was a bellwether of a district-wide funding crisis we are creating for ourselves in the name of a “portfolio of schools.” ”

The Board denied three out of four charter applications, but on their merits, not out of any concern for sustainability or potential adverse impact on existing neighborhood schools.  The Board approved the Baltimore Curriculum Project’s application to convert Frederick Elementary School to charter status.   Frederick’s neighboring elementary school, Samuel Morse, is currently slated for closure.

Does Baltimore need a state-mandated cap on charter school expansion?

Yes.  In the meantime, City Schools should deny applications for new, expanding or converting charter schools pending the outcome of the charter lawsuit and an analysis of the economic and enrollment impacts of charter expansion.

Baltimore City Schools Faces $85M Budget Shortfall

On Wednesday, February 24, the Baltimore City Schools administration laid out the initial impact of the 2016-17 budget, and it’s not pretty: The bottom line is that the school system expects to be short about $85 million. Here’s why:

Revenue Down $28.5 Million

Declining enrollment and increased property wealth in Baltimore City – much of which does not provide general tax revenue to help fund our schools – means less money from the state and possibly less from the city itself.

Governor Hogan’s FY 2017 budget proposes a loss of $25.3 million in state education aid to City Schools. The school system seems to be budgeting based on a worst-case scenario to include a potential loss of $3.2 million from Mayor Rawlings-Blake and the City due to enrollment declines. While conservative budgeting may be a wise approach for the school system to take, the City has never reduced school funding based on an enrollment drop. They certainly shouldn’t consider it now. Given the increase in city wealth, our expectation is that rather than cut funds the city will add funds to City Schools – becoming part of the solution. For now, though, the school system is budgeting as if losses of state and city funding are real.

Expenses Up $56.4 Million

While we have less money and fewer students, expenses are still up:

  • Personnel costs are up $21 million, including $17 million just for health care.
  • City Schools’ portion of the 21st Century Schools investment (the $1 billion new City Schools construction program) requires an increase of $10 million this year, for a total of $30 million, as mandated by state law.
  • Facilities Maintenance funding is increasing by $3 million for FY2017. City Schools’ Comprehensive Maintenance Plan, which covers all schools in the district, requires an increase in maintenance funding by $3 million each year over the next six years.
  • Pension costs are up $7 million due to a shift in responsibility from the State to the school district.
  • Costs for students with disabilities will be up $8.6 million.
  • Required staffing in traditional schools (like principals) is up $6.8 million.

These increased costs add up to $56.4 million. Added to the $28.5 million in lower revenue, that’s about an $85 million shortfall for next year’s school system budget.

UPDATE: March 10, 2016

Advocates (including us!) went to Annapolis March 9 with the Baltimore Education Coalition to raise our voices for Baltimore City Schools. We learned that the Governor intended to submit a supplemental budget adding $12.7 million for education in Baltimore City to cover the loss of funding due to enrollment decline. Now it is up to our leaders in Baltimore City to make up the difference.