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  February 24, 2017

As Baltimore Police Spending Spikes, Baltimore Students Protest to Fix School Budget Gap

Hundreds of students descended on Annapolis to demand the state fund a $130 million budget gap and question the city's priorities as police overtime spending skyrockets
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TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Annapolis, Maryland.

The controversy continues today as hundreds of Baltimore City residents descend upon the state capital in Annapolis in order to ask for more money for city schools. This protest was prompted by a $129-million budget deficit and a proposed 1,000 layoffs of employees, including teachers.

But there's one city government agency that continues to overspend by millions with very little pushback from leaders and it's causing tension.

Here to discuss this is Real News investigative reporter Stephen Janis. Now, Stephen, can you give me a little background on the Baltimore City school budget crisis?

STEPHEN JANIS: Well, early this year the City School CEO announced that there was a $129-million structural deficit in the school system, which was kind of a continuing problem in the school system. And the city really didn't have the funds to pay for it. So, they also announced that there would be layoffs, meaning maybe 1,000 people, including teachers. So, this has caused a tremendous amount of consternation because the City obviously has its own deficits; its own deficit spending and so they're coming now down to the state to ask Governor Larry Hogan to give more funding to the schools.

Now you put on top of that the fact that many tax breaks to developers have caused the city to lose school funding revenue, which has been delayed for one year but still will ultimately affect the school system. You have some over-estimation of enrollment. Some schools had less students than what had been originally estimated. And so, you have really a series of issues that are overwhelming the school system funding. So, this is really about coming down to Annapolis to say, “We need more money.”

TAYA GRAHAM: So, what is the city agency that has been overspending by millions?

STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah. Well, that would be our police department. Now keep in mind, the police department already gets the lion's share of our discretionary spending budget, about $500 million a year, as opposed to the school system which gets direct funding of about $238 million a year. So, the police already gets the most.

Now, every year, for the past four or five years, they've been running over on overtime. And this year, it looks like the police department is going to spend $40 million extra on overtime. Overtime is budgeted around $10 [million] so maybe $30 million more.

So, the point is that even while the city school system is begging for funds, the police department is actually sucking up more money out of the budget. And no one’s really made a peep about it. I mean, this has happened as long as I've been a reporter, dating back to 2006 when I did an investigation about overtime. And the same thing had happened: for a while it went down, but it's gone back up again.

And, you know, you put on top of that that the mayor recently announced she was going to create funding of $3 million to hire 100 more officers. And it's quite clear that we're back to this dilemma that we have discussed hundreds of times in this city: what's more important? Investment in education or investment in policing?

Now, of course, we've had very violent months. You know, we had another almost record violent year in homicides. We've had a complete increase in car jackings. But the thing is, we are still investing in the immediacy of policing and policing seems to have completely usurped schools as a funding priority.

TAYA GRAHAM: Now in order for the Baltimore City Police Department to be in compliance with the consent decree, Baltimore City has to give a lot more money, millions of dollars, in order to give research and technology improvements and updates, right?

STEPHEN JANIS: What's really interesting, and that's a great question, is that every time we've asked the mayor about this, and even the federal judge during the hearing about the consent decree ask, the city is yet to offer specifics on how much that money is. But it could be anything. I mean, the Department of Justice did an analysis of all the past 25 consent decrees and concluded that municipalities spend $600 million on extra training, technology, recruitment, whatever they needed to address this situation. So, you literally have a situation where it could be $40 [million], $50 million more; we don't know. We don't know at this point. We have asked the mayor about it but we don't know.

So, you're right, that could be piled on top of that and you're looking at a $600-million institution while the city’s schools go begging for funds.

Now, as you know, we have talked to several whistleblower teachers who say the conditions in the schools are deplorable. You know, the water is unsafe to drink. There are rodent infestations. The ceilings are collapsing. That the general...

TAYA GRAHAM: Teachers don't even have the workbooks to give to the students. That they have to make photocopies so the students have the books they need.

STEPHEN JANIS: Right. So, the state has funded $2 billion through borrowing for renovations of the schools. But still, you know, if you can't cover your basic operating expenses, you have a serious problem. So, we're again faced with this crucial, critical juncture between policing and education, the future and the present. Perhaps you could even say, the future and the past that is again overwhelming the city's ability to create a livable place for people to educate and advance, you know?

PROTESTORS: (indistinct chanting)

WOMAN: I'm here, unfortunately once again, to fight for funding for our schools. It's been something that we have to do annually. I'm personally tired of having to come out here every year and ask for the basics when other families are given the basics without having to come and fight every year.

TAYA GRAHAM: Are you worried that you're going to lose some of the city school teachers because they don't have enough money in the budget?

FEMALE STUDENT: Yes, we are because many of the teachers have helped us; especially us because we were unable to speak English four years ago and they helped us.

TAYA GRAHAM: That's terrific. Are you worried about losing some of the teachers that you've learned English from?

MALE STUDENT: Yes, because they have helped us a lot, like my sister said. Because when we came, we didn't know anything about English and they helped us a lot in the last few years.

FEMALE STUDENT: If you just look in our school, we go to Baltimore ... Colleges, there are ceilings falling in. The bathrooms are all messed up; only one toilet will work in the whole bathroom. And it's just crazy that we're getting more money taken away. So, it's gonna hurt us a lot.

MALE: So, basically what the sign is saying is that the system is putting more money into prisons than they are schools and that money that is being put into prisons, and especially the prison that is trying to be made for adolescents, that could be going into the future of our children and me and the rest of the children upcoming.

So, instead of putting the money into what you think we're going to be without the education, put the money into the education and change us, instead of like, yeah.

WOMAN: And when you take $42 million but you got $30 million for a jail, I don't agree with that. So, I can't... I really don't... I don't know what I can say to Governor Hogan other than, ‘We need to love our children more than we love our prisoners.’

WOMAN: Please don't ignore us. Baltimore isn't like the counties. We have kids here. Education is the only thing they have. They're not privileged. The only thing they have to get ahead in life is education. And that should be the number one priority of funding in Baltimore is education because if we don't educate our kids, some of them will end up in jail. The school-to-prison pipeline is happening. The only thing they have to get ahead is education.

WOMAN: What you see here is the fact that the City of Baltimore cares about our schools and understands that this is about a community decision. Are we going to invest in our young people in ways that signal to them that we believe in their potential? And that's why they're here and it's just so powerful that they're here. They don't need me to speak on their behalf.

CHILDREN PROTESTORS:(indistinct chanting) Save our schools! Save our schools! (indistinct chanting)

MAN: Like so many kids out there, I had a difficult time. I struggled at home. I struggled at school. But it was the attention and the support that I received from caring adults, my teachers and mentors, and programs that I participated in in school, correct?


MAN: Without support, I honestly don't know where I would be today. So, with great enthusiasm I would like for you all to join me as we call on the mayor and governor to help our kids and help our schools.


MAN: Fix stuff!


MAN: Fix stuff!


TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News in Annapolis, Maryland.




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