With no certainty about how long the coronavirus will keep kids out of classrooms, Baltimore school officials undertook a somewhat academic exercise last night: presenting their proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget.
Speaking to the Board of School Commissioners, CEO Sonja Santelises acknowledged that future funding is at risk given that the pandemic has caused large shortfalls in expected government revenues as well as unanticipated costs.
“We do not know the full landscape of costs coming,” she said.
Interim Chief Financial Officer Maryanne Cox projected that the state and city will provide an additional $16 million to the public schools’ general fund next year, a minuscule amount compared to the projected $1.17 billion budget.
But after Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said the state may lose 15% of its revenue for this fiscal year and Gov. Larry Hogan vowed not to increase spending, those projections may prove optimistic.
Another potential wildcard is the fate of the education funding bill approved by the Maryland legislature in March.
The bill, based on the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission, is now sitting on Hogan’s desk.
The governor has until the end of this week to veto, sign or let the bill become law without his signature. The bill’s key provisions won’t take effect until 2022.
In response to a question about how Covid-related expenses would impact the budget, Cox said, “They did not wait until Fiscal Year 21; we’re incurring them right now.”
(Students, required to stay at home under the governor’s Covid restrictions, are now being taught through distance learning.)
When the inevitable happens and City Schools needs to make adjustments to its 2021 projections, “they will be made through the appropriate, defined re-allocation process,” according to last night’s presentation.
Among next year’s funding priorities: literacy, equity, recruitment and HVAC improvements.
Commissioner Andy Frank expressed frustration with the budget presentation, saying there was little justification for some increases and decreases. Where was the administration investing in successful programs and where was it divesting in unsuccessful ones, he asked
“Is there a much more detailed budget book? Or is this it?”
The 114-page PDF is the whole thing, Cox said.
“From my perspective, it is not nearly enough,” Frank answered.
Board Chair Linda Chinnia said she expects the board to vote on the budget on May 12.