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  March 21, 2017

Hundreds Rally to Demand A Fix to Baltimore's School Budget Deficit


In a surprise move, City Schools announced $30 million dollars for classrooms, but students, teachers and advocates say funding remains woefully inadequate
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JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. As you can see behind me, hundreds have gathered at the steps of City Hall to demand Baltimore city schools be fully funded.

REV. GLENNA HUBER: We came out here tonight with 1,500 Baltimore City residents, students, principals and teachers to say that we need to fix this gap. We're all in. Delegate Macintosh did some excellent work on the state level, and we need the city council to step up, and the mayor to step up, and help us fix this gap. And we're looking at $130 million.

MARIE MOKUVA: There's not going to be, like, more that needs to be done, definitely. It's still going to affect us. I don't see the money doing anything now. We need to demand the full amount, plus more. Baltimore needs to be considered when decisions are made for Maryland overall, and we have been forgotten for too long.

JAISAL NOOR: And how is going to impact learning for students?

MARIE MOKUVA: It's already impacting learning. In classes, we're having discussions. We stop learning time to have discussions about this current situation. So, it's actually, like, bothering a lot of us. Like, to the point where we're actually stopping class time to talk about the situation, and how we're going to be affected by it, and how to move on, and move forward, with the changes that are going to be made. That's the way that it's affecting us.

JAISAL NOOR: Next year, the schools are facing $130 million school budget deficit. A few hours earlier today, $30 million was allocated by the city schools, but the school system still faces a significant shortfall.

In a surprise move, the school system came up with $30 million towards the budget in a statement posted to their website, "From cuts and restrictions on spending and hiring at the district office, will help close the projected gap. We are also continuing negotiations with our unions to identify potential savings through things like furloughs, changes to employee health insurance, or salary freezes." But some say it is still unclear where those savings come from.

We were here to talk to students, teachers and members of BUILD about why they're out here, and what their demands are.

JAISAL NOOR: With the additional money being allocated to the city schools. What do you know?

JACK YOUNG: From the school system?

JAISAL NOOR: Uh huh.

JACK YOUNG: Oh. That was news to me.

JAISAL NOOR: Okay.

JACK YOUNG: So, I don't know. I know we're in it to look for at least $10 million through the police budget, and we're specifically looking at the overtime budget. I've oftentimes said, my whole career, a city that gives more to its police department than it gives to its education and recreation department, there's a problem. So, I like to be proactive, rather than reactive, so we're going to comb their budget to see where we can find $10 million plus.

JAISAL NOOR: You know, Governor Hogan, a Republican, has expressed several concerns about the school system. He says it's mismanaged. Where's the money going? And it seemed to be leading, kind of part of his decision, to hold back some of that money. How do you respond to Governor Hogan?

REV. GLENNA HUBER: I respond by saying look at the audits. Baltimore City schools have produced clean audits. We are clear that they have been transparent around their budget. There has not been mismanagement of funds, and they can prove it.

KATIE SARAI: So, I think specifically with the standardized tests that we do, and the technology that that requires, and then also the fact that students are currently making demands on the type of education that we're getting, it's going to be hard for schools to keep up with that demand. And I also think, specifically for me, from Poly, I have to admit that I speak from a position of privilege, because Poly is well funded from the alumni. And considering that we're already at a disadvantage when it comes to our learning space, and how comfortable we may or may not feel because of the funding, I can only imagine the way others might feel.

Besides, I think just in general, having a safe learning environment is important. And the fact that we can't provide that alone, means that we definitely can't provide the kind of education, or curriculum that students deserve.

JAISAL NOOR: And talk about some of the stuff that might get cut at other schools, if not Poly itself.

KATIE SARAI: Well, for Poly, I think if anything, a few programs would get cut back. I also know teachers are getting cut. I think that's one of the biggest problems for me, is that if anything Baltimore City student's need is a good connection with their teachers, with their professors, with their peers.

Because you can't learn if you don't feel safe in your learning environment, and if you don't trust the people who are teaching you, and if we're constantly taking and bringing those people, or bringing in people who we don't know, then it's hard for us to create that learning environment. So, for me, it's a lot about getting cut back on teachers. I know Poly alone is losing, I think, 17 teachers, which to us, is huge.

JAISAL NOOR: And so, today, I got an email from the Baltimore police department, saying a 14 and 15-year-old were charged with murder –- attempted murder –- today. What impact are the budget cuts going to have on the issue of youth violence, and a lack of opportunities and hopelessness, do you think?

KATIE SARAI: Well, one, I would hold schools responsible for when those things happen, because I think that if students are walking in those paths, it's because the school has perpetuated the school-to-prison pipeline. And I think in a world where the school perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline, the only way to turn, is to have students controlling the schools, so that we know in what ways we want to guide ourselves and our peers. And I don't think that can happen if we don't have the money to fund youth ideas.

EMILIA VIZACHERO: Well, at Baltimore School for the Arts, we are an arts conservatory, as opposed to arts magnet schools. Which means that we rely very heavily on the arts, and that enriches our education so much. Right now, my school may lose 70 of our arts staff, which work half time. Which is going to change our school forever, something that really cannot be undone. So, those of us that go to the Baltimore School for the Arts will not be able to receive the education that they come here for, that they deserve. So, it's heavily impacting so many of us, all across the city, not just those who are being denied an arts education.

KIM COLEMAN: Well, we know vital positions and programs are going to be cut if this isn't resolved. Our students are going to lose a lot of the enrichment opportunities that they have, and what I think is the most drastic, from my perspective, is the increased class sizes. It's just really challenging to provide quality 21st century education with enormous class sizes and reduced staffing.

JAISAL NOOR: And so, for someone that hasn't been in a classroom before, what's the difference between having 20 or 25 students, and 30 to 40 students in a classroom?

KIM COLEMAN: Students deserve individualized attention from their teachers. Their teachers should know everything about their learning style, where they are, how they're progressing. And if you have too many students to physically move around the room, and assess how your students are progressing, then all of your students are missing out on the quality education that they deserve.

JAISAL NOOR: And, members of BUILD are going to be meeting with the leadership of the city council, and the mayor today. Talk about what your demands are and what you're hoping that the city council can do.

KIM COLEMAN: Well, we know that we need more than $10 million from city council. We have a long way to go to close the gap, and $130 is enough, and nothing short of that.

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END



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