- The Washington Times - Friday, June 18, 2004

BALTIMORE (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union said it will file a legal motion to force the Baltimore school system to pay off its $58 million deficit over a longer period to reduce the burden on teachers and classrooms in the next two years.

Class sizes are to increase, and new teacher mentoring and summer-school programs will be reduced to save about $35 million from next year’s $900 million budget, school officials have said. An additional $10 million is being held in reserve. Under this plan, the deficit is scheduled to be eliminated by July 2006.

The ACLU argues that paying down the deficit that quickly would result in program cuts that harm students.

The cuts will “roll back the current educational program for children, and it certainly won’t be moving educational programs forward,” said Bebe Verdery, education director of Maryland’s ACLU.

The group already has taken its case to U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis and Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan. It plans to file a formal motion by July 8. A court hearing would be held shortly after.

Recent state law requires all school systems to balance their budgets annually, but the city schools have a year to meet that standard.

The deficit elimination plan also is spelled out in a memorandum of understanding between the school system and City Hall, which allows two years for the deficit to be paid off.

Miss Verdery said both schedules are artificial and that the system should be allowed to pay down the deficit over a longer period.

The city may have to provide more funding to the schools next year to extend the payoff period, and it’s not clear whether that would be possible. A hearing is set for late July on the subject.

The ACLU has three separate lawsuits against the state, charging that city students were receiving a substandard education in violation of the state constitution. Those cases remain open.

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