Wavering because of audit, school advocates say, means “turning your back on our kids”

Education Coalition girds for school construction funding battle in Annapolis

bec 10 16 12

Baltimore’s dilapidated school buildings “lie about who our children are,” advocates said, at a rally last night.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Gathering 300 cheering, clapping parents and other school supporters, the group pushing an ambitious plan to start repairing neglected city school buildings met last night in one of those structures, an elementary school auditorium.

As speakers rallied the troops with a familiar call to action – push Annapolis to approve a $32 million block grant to ultimately leverage more than $2 billion needed – students underlined the message with fresh tales from their crumbling schools.

“On one of those days recently when we had a lot of rain, the stairwells and the band room were flooded with water,” said Naim Smith, an eighth-grader at KIPP Ujima Village Academy in West Baltimore. “Our first band rehearsal was canceled.”

  A crowd at Barclay Elemenatry School rallied for a city school construction plan that is not "a band-aid approach." the city's dilapidated schools in the next 10 years. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Rally held in Barclay Elementary School calling for a city school construction plan that is not “a band-aid approach.” (Photo by Fern Shen)

But along with the descriptions of rodents in the halls and freezing-cold or stifling-hot classrooms, school advocates had to contend with some other troubling images, emanating from a recently-released city schools audit:

Millions of dollars paid out in questionable overtime, sick leave and vacation pay going to teachers and administrators who may not have been entitled to it, millions more in unpaid bills that were never referred to a collection agency,  millions of dollars in unverified payments for  academic and maintenance work the district contracted.

Cascade of Criticism

The damning audit (first reported in the Baltimore Sun) and other reports (including district-paid meals at pricey restaurants and clubs and a $264 lunch for students at Hooter’s) are causing major heartburn for advocates whose campaign on behalf of Baltimore public school students stretches back many years.

The Mayor speaking earlier this year in support of the bottle tax, with schools chief Andres Alonso, right, listening. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The Mayor speaking earlier this year in support of the bottle tax, with schools chief Andres Alonso, right, listening. (Photo by Fern Shen)

A stern Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake publicly warned city schools CEO  Andrés Alonso to correct the problems “immediately,” City Councilman Carl Stokes was on the radio last night railing about “accountability,” and state lawmakers are saying the waste, fraud and lack of oversight permitted by North Avenue will make an already-hard campaign in Annapolis that much harder. Alonso, on the defensive, issued a statement to the media.

On Monday, two leaders of the school construction effort fired back on the issue in a Baltimore Sun op-ed, acknowledging that the waste outlined in the audit is “unacceptable” but chiding public officials for using it as an excuse to abandon the cause.

“What angers us in the current debate is how quickly the needs of our children are lost to the selfish politics of the moment,” wrote Rev. Glenna Reed Huber and Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, clergy co-chairs of BUILD, Baltimoreans United for Leadership Development.

Huber and Connors suggest two approaches to better ensure accountability – creating a state chartered non-profit organization or establishing a new independent public authority to oversee school building repairs.

Del. Mary L. Washington, one of several state lawmakers who pledged to make the block grant their priority in Annapolis this year. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Del. Mary L. Washington, one of several state lawmakers who pledged to make the block grant their priority in Annapolis this year. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Last night’s speakers never explicitly brought up the audit and Alonso sent Chief Academic Officer Sonja Brookins Santelises in his place (“Dr. Alonso had a prior engagement,” organizers explained.) But in the lobby, a leader of the school construction campaign was primed for the question.

Lisa Quinones said that entities to provide accountability “could easily be set up,” following the models used in Greenville, South Carolina and other districts. Quinones, with Arica Gonzales, is an action co-chair of the Baltimore Education Coalition, the event’s organizer.

Quinones called it “an excuse” to give up on city students because adults aren’t managing their schools properly.

“If you’re backing down because of something you read in the newspaper,” Quinones said, “you’re backing away from our kids.”

“That’s Just Not Right”

Last night was all about rallying the base and getting public officials to agree to again take up the cause.

“These buildings have been lying about who you are for too long,” Gonzales said, as parents in the room pumped their fists in the air.

Martin Mason, Marqueo Jackson, Deneira Ray and Naim Smith, of KIPP Ujima Village Academy, attended last night's rally and plan to go to Annapolis next year. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Martin Mason, Marqueo Jackson, Deneira Ray and Naim Smith, eighth-graders at KIPP Ujima Village Academy, attended last night’s rally. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Leon Pryor, a kindergarten teacher from Calvin Rodwell Elementary School, walked the group through the legislation, which would lock in existing capital funding for city school construction and allocate $32 million to be used as annual payments on a larger loan. Projected on the screen was recently-renovated Leith Walk Elementary, which invited the media to come in last month and see how such schools could look.

“We want to have several Leith Walks allover the city every year,” Pryor said.

City and state lawmakers came to support the effort, among them city council members Mary Pat Clark and Bill Henry, school board members David Stone and Robert Heck, and state legislators Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg, Mary L. Washington, Joan Carter Conway, Curtis S. Anderson and Verna L. Jones-Rodwell.

State Senator William C. Ferguson IV, a former city school teacher, was one of many who recalled their own experiences in shabby city school buildings: “My classroom didn’t have a doorknob and I had to carry around scissors in my pocket to open and close the door.”

Organizers reminded the audience to prepare for a a march they hope will reach 3,000 in Annapolis during the coming 2013 legislative session. As the crowd filed out, KIPP Ujima eighth graders said they plan to attend the Annapolis rally.

“I don’t want to be in some rusty old school,” said Deneira Ray, of Park Heights, who wrinkled her nose as she told about mice, stuck sink faucets and other problems at her school. “Sometimes during the winter, it’s really cold. That’s just not right.”














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  • Cwals99

    I’m not sure to what plan they are referring, but if it is the billion dollar Wall Street financial instrument that gives the banks ownership of public schools for 30 years, then the average person does not understand the repercussions of this policy.  We just experienced a massive financial mortgage fraud, we are still seeing fraud continuing, and all financial analysts say that fraud is systemic in the financial industry.  The banks have only profit as a motive.  Each time we enter into an agreement, especially with these complex instruments, the city and the public loses big.  We do not want a public school system that is built on Wall Street debt.

    First, Wall Street still owes the State of Maryland billions from the mortgage fraud.  The $25 billion settlement was only an interest payment on that fraud debt.  Getting that money from the banks would build these schools.  Why would you enter a new deal to pay all kinds of money in interest with a business that owes you billions in criminal penalty?

    Second, as all people who follow economics knows the US is heading for another massive financial collapse in the near future.  Politicians have allowed the banks to leverage themselves back to $600 trillion just as they were before the collapse only now the US has $14 trillion in debt and the European Union is entering a depression.  The banks know that municipal debt will bring all kinds of public assets to them if/when this collapse happens.  Your politicians know it too, just as they knew the 2008 collapse was coming because of the mortgage fraud.

  • Cwals99

    I would also like to point out that the Baltimore Education Coalition is primarily a charter school organization and for those who see charters as a step towards public education privatization, having Wall Street own these public schools fits nicely with that goal.

    • Wickerman0

      The block grant comes from the state not Wallstreet. A little research would have yielded that fact instead of making assumptions

  • Tom

    Cwals99, I’m afraid you have your facts wrong. BEC is NOT primarily a charter school organization. It’s made up of dozens of institutions, including public schools, churches, and many others. Please do your research about both BEC and the capital financing plan for the schools.

  • Cwals99

    I beg to differ on the makeup of BEC….I’m quite familiar and the numbers aren’t dozens.  BUILD for example has many members but is only one organization on the committee.  MEC supports charters, the ACLU supports charters, the private non-profits on the committee are mostly affiliated with Johns Hopkins which supports charters.  The general public cannot attend a BEC meeting which calls into concern the public nature of the group and they call their policy approaches private.

    That was not the point I was making… had to do with the financial instrument being used in the build.  I read the proposal for Alonzo’s plan…..and again, I’m only assuming that is the plan referred to here…..and it specifically references the same leveraging deal done in Georgia a decade ago.  You are referring to a block grant that represents only a small piece of the entire, complex instrument.  I believe my description is accurate.

    I want to emphasize I am all for the school rebuild, but as I said, why do it through leveraged bonds when you simply need an Attorney General to bring billions in fraud back to Maryland.

     From the Baltimore Sun opinion article “For Cities A Promising Vision”:

    What city officials and education advocates are proposing is this: A
    nonprofit or other third-party entity would sell a large sum of bonds
    and use the proceeds to engage in large-scale, systematic repair,
    renovation and replacement of city schools. A construction program of
    sufficient magnitude would create economies of scale and would take
    advantage of historically low costs for borrowing, labor and materials.
    To make that work, Mr. Alonso wants to allocate existing state and city funding
    streams for school construction and renovation, plus some new ones
    MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blakeis proposing, to the new entity in the form
    of a block grant, which would be used to pay off the bonds over 30
    years. At current rates, $1 million in annual funding could support
    about $15 million in borrowing. The school system estimates that it
    could raise as much as $1.1 billion in capital in the first phase of
    such an effort.

    The mayor has expressed support for the general idea of allocating school construction funds
    in the form of a block grant, but she has not specifically embraced the
    notion of using existing city and state capital funds — themselves the
    product of general obligation bonds — to leverage additional borrowing.
    City Hall and the schools remain in discussions over the logistics,
    advisability and legality of such a plan.

  • Tomwaldron1

    BEC is an extremely inclusive organization and I simply disagree with your view that it is somehow charter-centric. It’s not. What it is is this: the first true broad-based community group working to improve our schools in generations. It turned out some 3,000 people on a horribly rainy night in Annapolis two years ago and will surely do the same in the upcoming session. Its creation and involvement are completely positive developments. While you may not approve of the financing arrangement, it is the only viable one that is on the table right now. Come join us and help us make it a reality — to benefit kids across the city.

    • Citizen's


      I have been banned from attending the meetings because of my views and blogging on charters vs. public.  I simply wanted to sit an observe and was asked to leave.  I know the groups involved and I don’t see the broad-based nature of which you speak.

  • Fire Next Time

    I think the board should consider removing Alonso, the only difference between him and the previous CEO’s appears to be the Harvard Degrees. Then the BCPSS should eliminate the William Donald Schaefer corporate patronage structure and replace it with a leaner more schools focused staff. Alonso has added a number of high paid useless admin jobs for former TFA, Fund for Educational Excellence staff and Morgan grads. Its not enough to build new facilities, the whole system’s got to change.

  • Parent of 3 says no to BEC

    The only people to blame in this mess of dilapidated schools is the city ‘education establishment’ itself, which has proven over decades how unwilling they are to accept accountability or do much other than protect their own job security and employment perks. As long as these cronies maintain their grip on what passes as education, no amount of money will really bring better outcomes for kids. Imagine loaning BCPSS that much money? What percentage would be squandered, stolen or lost before the rank and file BEC and unions folks even got their invite to the party? Lets take that money and put it where it will actually work for kids today- into school choice.

  • Foolforthecity

    Umoja Schlomoja just teach em the 3 R’s

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