Council members, advocates seek money in city budget
Baltimore’s City Council president said Monday that he and fellow council members are revving up to fight for more community and youth program funding in next year’s budget.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he and his staff are combing Mayor Catherine Pugh’s $2.8 billion budget proposal for about $13 million in cuts. He expects to find most of that money in the nearly $500 million police budget.
If the council finds the $13 million, Young said, he plans to recommend about $10 million of that be redirected to the Baltimore public school system — whose chief has proposed laying off 300 employees, including teachers — and $2.4 million go to running after-school and community school programs, which count on city funding to support thousands of Baltimore children and adults.
“We’re going to look for cuts to restore that money,” Young said. “We’re looking for $10 million for the schools, and we’re looking for the money for the after-school programs.”
Young’s comments come as education advocates, including the influential community organization Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, push the city to restore funding for community school programs and after-school programs.
Former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake added the money to the city budget after the unrest that followed Freddie Gray’s 2015 death in police custody. Rawlings-Blake ultimately funded the programs in this year’s budget, too, but Pugh did not include the money in her plan for the budget year that begins July 1.
Pugh, who has argued she’s had to make tough decisions about what programs to fund in her first term as mayor, said Monday she’s open to working with advocates and the council to find money for the programs.
“I’m looking forward to a very healthy conversation with the City Council around budgeting issues and our common priorities,” Pugh said in a statement. “I will wait to see where we all come out on these issues around after-school and community school programs.”
While the City Council can cut from the mayor’s budget, only Pugh can redirect the funds.
The advocates argue that Baltimore’s surging homicide rate shows more money should be spent on after-school programs, not less. They say a $2.4 million reduction in spending on the Family League of Baltimore will mean about 1,000 fewer youths will get to participate in 20 after-school programs and 3,400 fewer families will get to participate in six community school programs.
Advocates say Pugh promised to fund the programs during her campaign. They say educating kids during after-school hours keeps them safe and out of trouble.
“I think it’s wrong,” said Samirah Franklin, 19, who leads the Baltimore Youth Organizing Project. “The mayor promised us this funding. In the context of the more than 120 murders this year, it’s the worst time this cut can happen.”
Young said he disagrees with the spending plan laid out by city budget director Andrew Kleine, who also served under Rawlings-Blake. He said he would prefer not to have an annual fight with the budget office over spending on these programs.
“I was hoping this wouldn’t be an issue, but Mr. Kleine continues to make this an issue by not including it in the budget,” Young said. “We shouldn’t have to be fighting for these things for our youth with what’s going on in the city of Baltimore.”
This is the second year in a row that funding for after-school programs has sparked a budget dispute. Last year, Rawlings-Blake agreed to restore after-school funds after Young and his colleagues threatened to shut down city government.
Several City Council members said Monday they were on board with Young’s plan to free up more money for schools.
City Councilman Brandon Scott said he will push to either cut funding for the free Charm City Circulator bus or charge $1 per ride to keep it running. In addition to after-school funding, Scott said he wants to see money restored for the anti-violence Safe Streets program and for a juvenile diversion program run through the state’s attorney’s office.
City Councilman Ryan Dorsey said he’d like to see all of the cuts come from the police budget.
“I’m interested in restoration of the entire school budget,” he said. “I believe the full amount should come from the Police Department budget.”
Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises is proposing to lay off as many as 300 people, including teachers, to balance a $1.31 billion budget next year.
Even as the council eyes police budget cuts, Commissioner Kevin Davis has argued there are fewer police officers working in Baltimore than in recent years.