- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

BALTIMORE — A group of city activists sought a court order yesterday to halt 710 layoffs in the Baltimore school system, saying the job losses would be a further setback to struggling schools.

Kirk Arthur, an attorney for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, said the layoffs threaten to erode the level of education guaranteed by the state constitution. He filed a request for a temporary restraining order in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday afternoon and hopes to get a hearing next week.

“Basically we’re saying that these layoffs of close to 10 percent of the school work force would make it impossible to provide that level of education,” he said.

The layoffs were announced Tuesday to address a $52 million deficit that has grown owing to several years of overspending. School and city officials said the school system could go bankrupt if it didn’t reduce the payroll by $24 million by the end of the year.

Bonnie Copeland, who became the chief executive officer of the city’s schools this month, warned that another round of staff reductions was likely early next year.

Jeff Grotsky, the school system’s chief of staff, said yesterday that the overspending happened because system officials were unaware of how many people were on the payroll. The system also failed to provide accurate and timely information on budgets, he said.

“With the great needs that our system has and our kids have and our buildings and so forth, I think people were pretty much not controlled in the amount of spending that was taking place,” Mr. Grotsky said.

More than a third of the administrative staff at the central office will be cut for a total of 298 jobs. There also were layoffs of temporary workers, 13 assistant principals and 55 teachers whose professional certificates had lapsed.

The layoffs are expected to reduce the annual payroll by at least $14 million. That’s still $10 million short of the district’s target.

“We’re just going to do less with less — act like a poor school district like we really are,” Mr. Grotsky said.

Employees were given more than 30 days’ notice.

Last year, the district laid off 396 temporary workers and furloughed the schools’ 12,000 employees, from two to four days in most cases, to balance a budget of nearly $900 million.

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