Baltimore School District’s Budget Gap Is Related To Small Schools And High Salaries

Small schools add an estimated $940 a year to the overall cost of each student’s education. Nearly 1 third of Baltimore’s schools enroll less that 350 students. While these schools aid in fostering a positive learning environment for students, school officials are pondering whether they can actually afford the extra $13 million in operating costs.

In July 2016, CEO Sonja Santelises of Baltimore City Schools hired consultant, who have decided that the additional cost of running a small school is just another reason why the school system was left dealing with a $130 million budget shortfall for the year that begins July 1. This amount is equal to about 10 percent of the school system’s budget.

Santelises spending budget for the coming year was presented to the school board on Tuesday. City and state officials have committed $180 million over a three-year-span to the system’s budget. Santelises said by tapping reserve funds and cutting $30 million from the school district’s central office, she could decrease next year’s deficit. Part of the remaining cuts would need to come from schools.

Critics are calling for district leaders to do more to reduce redundant spending.

With foundation money, Santelises hired a nonprofit, Education Resource Strategies (ERS), to help solve the issues behind the budget shortfall. However, the firm did not address that claim, but did identify a few “drivers”, including areas where spending exceed that of nearby school districts. These “drivers” are the driving factor for the city system’s existing fiscal problems.

The ERS report revealed that the 2010 teachers contract was unique and contained costly benefits, making the city faculty some of the highest paid in the state. In Baltimore, a teacher’s starting salary is $48,400, which is 7 percent higher than higher scoring Baltimore County with a $45,100 starting salary.

Several years ago, school leaders committed to pledging an increased $35 million to renovate and rebuild aging schools.

For each student, Baltimore school system spends an estimated $15,000 per each student, which is around $2,000 higher than Baltimore County.

There are ongoing negotiations between school officials and the teachers union in an attempt to reduce costs with big emphases on the expense of benefits. Officials expect to close about 20 schools over a few years, while consolidating smaller and underused schools.

Over a decade ago, district leaders agreed to divide its larger high schools with between 1,500-2,000 students into smaller schools. Today, many of these high schools have less than 1,000 students each.

Baltimore County has 30,000 more students than the city, but has eight less schools.

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