Baltimore City Schools CEO Warns of Massive Layoffs

Baltimore city schools CEO Sonja Santelises said Friday that she is prepared to lay off more than 1,000 people — from classroom teachers to custodians — to close a $130 million gap.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

Meeting with the city’s legislative delegation in Annapolis, she said the layoffs — as well as furloughs and cuts to art classes and other enrichment programs— are part of a far-reaching plan to close a budget shortfall that amounts to 10 percent of the school system’s $1.3 billion budget.

She said some schools would see class sizes increase by as many as 10 students.

The lawmakers made clear they found such sweeping cuts troubling, but they did not suggest that there might be state money to prevent them. Maryland is dealing with its own $544 million budget gap, and both state and city officials suggested that the school district will have to make tough decisions.

Santelises, in her first year on the job, revealed last month the shortfall for the budget year that begins July 1. It’s the largest budget gap the district has faced in recent history. Declining enrollment, rising teacher salaries and an ambitious school construction program have been cited as contributors to the problem.

“I’m not saying this is it, but I am saying that when push comes to shove, it’s my job as the head of the school system to have a plan,” Santelises said in outlining her cost-cutting proposals to The Baltimore Sun. “And this is the best plan I can give. Based on the trajectory we are on now, Baltimore city public schools will look drastically different on July 2.”

The Baltimore Teachers Union demanded that state and city leaders take action.

“Our children cannot get the education they deserve with 1,000 fewer people working in the schools,” union president Marietta English said in a statement Friday.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, a former teacher, suggested state officials look to casino revenue to shore up the schools budget. Maryland casinos have pumped $1.7 billion into the state’s Education Trust Fund, but state officials are allowed to redirect other money that once went to schools.

“The money is there to help us avoid this,” Clarke said. She also expressed concern that layoffs would cause the newest teachers to lose their jobs. “We can’t lay off the youngest new cadre of educators — the last in, first off — and deprive our children and those talented people of their future together,” Clarke said.

Outlining broadly her budget-cutting plan, Santelises said $80 million of the cuts would fall on individual schools. These schools will see a “dramatic increase in class size,” she said, while others will have to sacrifice programs like career technology courses.

“This is going to hit everything kids love about coming to school,” Santelises said. “We’re talking about severe impact to school programming, which then impacts all of our efforts to try to recruit new families.”

Most schools will have to lose staff, Santelises said, and some schools will have to target the highest earners for layoffs in order to recoup a significant amount of money.

In past years, when school officials announced a gap half this size, they avoided including teachers in staff cuts, which mostly affected non-classroom positions. Santelises said firmly that teachers will have to be included this time.

Baltimore City schools lost $38.7 million in state funding this year due to enrollment declines, increased wealth, and the loss of a one-time fiscal 2017 declining enrollment grant.

Useful Links

The Baltimore Sun Article

Letter From Dr. Santelises

Why Do Five Jurisdictions Lose $45M in Education Funds?