The City that Cried Wolf
It is that time of year again. Baltimore City Public Schools are whining about not having enough money to fund the schools for the next school year. As is per usual, they trot out the number of teachers who will be cut from employment, the increase in class sizes and all the special activities that will be cut. This year the City is short a mere 130 million dollars. The school system is asking the State to come up with a big chunk of that money. The per pupil cost to educate a child in Baltimore City Public Schools is already one of the highest in the State at over $15,500 per child, and that is the average cost. In spite of the investment, outcomes are terrible.
A reasonable question is why the shortfall yet again. Didn’t anyone see this coming? There are two primary reasons for the reduction in State funding. The first reason is that the funding formula from the State is based on real estate taxing base (the primary funding source for schools) and on the number of children enrolled in the system. Baltimore City has bargained away a large portion of its real estate tax base in order to attract or keep big businesses in the city for the jobs they provide. So, that action has lowered the real estate tax base for the City.
Secondly, families have been leaving City schools in droves so the number of students attending public schools continues to drop.
There are other reasons the City is in fiscal distress but these are reasons that are not so easily acknowledged or changed. Baltimore City itself does not contribute the amount of money to its own school system that other districts in the State contribute. Yet each year the City comes to the State legislature and asks for more money. This year will probably be no exception and out of a magnitude of guilt, the State will come up with some more money just as it does every year.
Another reason is the teachers’ salary scale. The average teacher’s salary in Baltimore City is the highest in the state. Throwing money at this problem for the last 40 years has not changed anything.
Come this fall, Baltimore City will have terminated very few teachers. It will have a reserve of a few hundred teachers who do not have assignments but are paid to show up “just in case”. Bad teachers being paid more money does not improve teaching performance. Nor do bad teachers improve outcomes for kids.
There needs to come a time when crying wolf needs to stop working. The City needs to contribute more of its own money AND it needs to stop paying more money to use the same failed approaches that have not worked all these many years. No one denies that the challenges for the City schools are huge. Then stop doing the same things and expecting different results. Maybe if the State did not come to the rescue this year, the new CEO would have the leverage to do something dramatically different. Shouldn’t be much worse and at least we could stop the insanity.