Article10 Budget Cuts Protest

Protesters from PennNorth: The Kids Safe Zone protested Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s cuts to after-school programs. (Photo by Deborah Bailey)

One by one, residents stood at the podium during a hearing held April 12 at the War Memorial in Downtown Baltimore, expressing shock and disbelief at Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake’s decision to cut $4.2 million from after-school and community-based educational programs in her proposed fiscal year 2017 budget.  More than 200 parents, children and community supporters protested, pleaded and demanded that cuts be restored during the first of several Baltimore Taxpayer’s Night Hearings.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake recently announced that after-school and community-based programs at six schools serving a total of 2,500 students would not receive city funds in the new budget year starting July 1.  The funding was originally allocated at the height of civic unrest following the death of Freddie Gray in April 2015.

Ericka Alston, director of the Safe Kids Zone in Sandtown-Winchester, said her program served 100 children a day last summer. Her program is located at the epicenter of last year’s unrest, and serves children in Gilmore Terrace and the surrounding area.

“When we opened on June 1, 2015, we were the response to the rioting. There were no safe spaces for kids in Sandtown-Winchester,” Alston said.

The children’s advocate said she and participants in her Safe Kids Zone program came to Taxpayer’s Night to convince Rawlings-Blake to change her mind.

“We have been operating for 10 months on the promise that the mayor wants to make things better in our community,” Alston said. “We hope the mayor will rethink and make children her priority.”

Code in The Schools, one of the community-based educational programs slated for cuts, teaches computer programming to more than 2,000 students from under-served schools and communities each year.  Gretchen Legrand, Code’s director, echoed the frustration of several citizens who compared the impact of the budget cuts to legislation passed by City Council last week offering the equivalent of 15 years of property tax breaks to developers who will convert underutilized downtown office spaces into high-end apartments.

“The return on investment we give to our children is so much higher than any tax break we can give developers,” Legrand said.

In addition to $4.2 million in after-school and community-school cuts, the FY 2017 budget will also eliminate $450,000 from Experience Core, Teach for America and the City of Baltimore’s Maryland Extension programs.

“We only found out about the budget cuts two weeks ago,” said Manami Brown, director of the Baltimore City Extension. The agency serves every council district in Baltimore with food and nutrition, urban agriculture and 4-H Youth Development programming.

“All of these groups that are testifying tonight – we serve all of these sites,” said Brown. “If these cuts are not restored, we close our doors as of June 30.”

Andrew Kleine, the mayor’s budget director, explained that last year’s $4.2 million allocation was meant to be a one-time allotment.

“So when we planned for FY 2017, the result was difficult choices,” Kleine said. He added, that despite the challenges, the mayor has invested in children and youth through the allocation of an additional $10 million to public schools.

Kleine was joined in listening to citizen testimony by Bernard C. “Jack” Young, council president; Joan Pratt, comptroller; Henry Raymond, director of finance; George Nelson, city solicitor and Rudolph Chow, director of the Department of Public Works.  

Young announced the City Council will hold hearings with city agencies in May before giving consideration of the full budget in June.  Additional Taxpayer Night hearings will be announced at the next City Council meeting slated for 5 p.m. Friday,  April 15 at City Hall.