Baltimore Schools Maintenance Nightmare: Project Baltimore Follows the Money
BALTIMORE (WBFF)-- No heat, cancelled classes and frustrated parents. Baltimore City Public Schools is facing more criticism over how it spends its money. Project Baltimore analyzed budgets and found city schools has been cutting money from maintenance, while spending the most in the region on administration.
Students were back at Calverton Elementary Middle School on Tuesday for the first time in two weeks.
“If they were spending their money well, then why is the school out for a whole two weeks, because they can’t, they don’t have the funds to fix the heat,” said Calverton parent, Shakia Epps.
No heat, meant no class. And for parents like Epps, the closures were not only an inconvenience but a major concern over how city schools is spending her tax dollars.
“Y’all used the money for something else, the kids was out of school for a whole two weeks,” said Epps.
So, where is the money going? Project Baltimore paged through 2018 budgets. Here are the numbers: City Schools has a $1.3 billion budget. Most of that, 73 percent ($953 million), goes to salaries and benefits, which is not unusual. Howard County spends 85 percent on salaries and benefits. Anne Arundel spends 81 percent.
What is unusual is how much City Schools spends on administration. At $62 million, nearly five percent of the total budget, it’s by far the most in the region. Howards spends just $14 million. Anne Arundel is at $33 million. Baltimore County, a much larger school district, spends $52 million. This is money that doesn’t get to the classroom or boiler room.
“To reduce the budget for maintenance is tantamount to disastrous,” says Carl Stokes, the founder of Banneker Blake Academy and a former city council member. Stokes says given the district’s old buildings, regular maintenance is essential. But maintenance is a budget item that is not mandated, meaning the school district can cut money from there and put it towards other expenses it is required to pay. These mandated payments include salaries and benefits. A previous Fox45 report found City Schools budget for maintenance is down 27 percent over the last four budgets.
“They are prioritizing,” adds Stokes. “We have to do these things in terms of education. Other things like maintenance goes down.”
What mandated costs are increasing? We found it’s not the typical drivers like salaries or pensions. In City Schools, one big increase is prescription drugs. In 2013, the district spent $17.9 million on prescription drugs. Next year, it plans to spend nearly $33 million, or almost double.
“The buildings are old, they are falling apart. You need tens of millions of dollars to do this stuff and it’s not getting done,” says Stokes.
And when things are getting done, parents like Epps are forced to deal with the fallout
“You know how much work they done missed? You know how much intellect they done missed for those little two weeks being out of school?” says Epps. “It just don’t make sense.”
Project Baltimore reached out to Baltimore City Schools about this story. We specifically asked them to explain why City Schools spends the most in the region on administration. They released a statement reading in part, "it would be difficult to respond given that we have no frame of reference regarding what other districts include in their administrative costs."
City Schools also told us they are looking into it.