Baltimore schools CEO Gregory Thornton says more staffing cuts at the school system are guaranteed.
“We cannot continue with rising costs and flat-line revenue. It takes a lot. There will be continued cuts in the school district. There will be cuts in personnel. I want that message to be loud and clear,” he told the City Council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee last night.
“Last year we made major cuts with respect to central office,” Thornton explained. “We’re at the end with that.”
The next round of cuts for the coming fiscal year (2016-17) will be at the school level.
“We’ll have to begin to take a look at cuts at the schools. That really scares me. When we start having cuts at schools, it starts to drive class size, it starts to drive programmatic options.”
Without going into specifics, Thornton said, “If we’re going to be the school system we want to be, we have to think differently about the funding structure of our schools.”
The school’s next budget, for fiscal 2016-17, is expected to be completed by the end of March, he said.
Construction vs. Operating Funds
Under legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly, $60 million will annually be contributed by several parties to a Baltimore City school construction program.
But this money – expected over time to create a $1 billion pot of funds to rebuild up to 28 schools – does not include aid for the system’s operating costs, which were the subject of Thornton’s presentation last night.
Key budget events for FY 2016-17, Thornton said, would include devising a new charter school funding formula and reviewing the fair student funding model.
He said community forums to discuss possible changes in the next school budget were in the process of being scheduled.
Twice the National Average
The Council called out school officials for unfilled principal vacancies, a subject of several Brew stories.
Schools CFO Donald Kennedy said 30 principals turned over this year and eight vacancies remained.
Councilman Eric T. Costello asked human capital officer Lisa Grillo if the district’s rate of principal turnover was the “industry standard.”
“About 19.5% of schools had principal turnover,” Costello said. “Is that high or low?” he asked.
“It is lower than it has been,” Grillo said, referring to the district’s historical vacancy rate, “but if you look at turnover nationwide, we still have a lot of work to do.”
Thornton said the district’s principal turnover rate was about twice the national average.
Costello, whose 11th District has three of the eight remaining principal vacancies, asked Grillo, “Is six days really enough time for a new principal to get rolling?”
“It’s a fair question,” admitted Grillo, who said that many of the vacancies “opened late” and were due to promotions.
Costello wanted to know what kind of strategy was in place to guide filling principal vacancies and if the district had a written policy.
Grillo said there was no policy per se, but the district followed comprehensive protocols.
“Who is Going to Brief the New Principal?”
Councilman James B. Kraft said Holabird Elementary in his southeast district was still without a principal. He questioned the school’s ability to get the new principal “up to speed” in time for the new academic year, which begins on Monday.
Holabird’s former principal Tony Ruby was “more than a person who manages a school,” Kraft said. “He virtually lived at the school. He was involved with the community. Who is going to brief the new principal?” Kraft asked Grillo.
She replied that one of the reasons “we are as late as we are” is because the school system had engaged the Holabird community in the principal hiring process.
Grillo promised Kraft that Holabird’s new principal – along with seven others – would be named tonight at a special school board meeting.