BUILD Child First Says Get on the Bus for Youth and Education — Ron Kipling Williams

BUILD Child First Says Get on the Bus for Youth and Education — Ron Kipling Williams

City Council members were urged to ‘get on the bus’ to fight for youth and education funding - funding that has been historically slashed during budget shortfalls.

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While the city has been embroiled in the same economic downtown as the rest of the state and the nation, Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Council President Stephanie Rawlings Blake, and City Comptroller Joan Pratt vociferously defended their decision to quietly vote in and receive their legally chartered pay raise last week.

Dixon justified her $3,700 pay raise during a press conference, asserting that she is not working for free, and that she has her own responsibilities, including sending her daughter to college.

The same evening of the media’s announcement, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) and Child First Authority were challenging both the City and the state to ensure that youth and education funding not only be kept in the budget, but that it be an integral part of future fiscal plans.

BUILD is a citywide broad-based power organization of 50 congregations and schools with a 31-year track record of delivering concrete improvements to Baltimore City. Child First Authority was created by BUILD.

Delegations totaling 750 adults and children from schools and churches assembled at the St. Matthews Catholic Church on Loch Raven Boulevard to demonstrate a strong coalition of support.

Baltimore City School System CEO Dr. Andrés Alonso, who has been a strong ally of BUILD, also was in attendance.

They gave City Hall two options, both incurring mixed responses from local lawmakers. The first option would be for 25 percent of monies from President-elect Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package slated for state and local governments to be dedicated to youth and education programs.

The second option would be the allocation of 25 percent of the city’s rainy day fund – approximately $20 million of the $92 million in the coffers.

Earlier this year, Peer 2 Peer Youth Enterprises, a consortium of about 20 youth groups, demanded $3 million from the interest of the rainy day fund for their programming. Dixon rebuffed their demand, calling such a measure ‘fiscally irresponsible,’ which would threaten the city’s AAA bond rating. Subsequently, Peer 2 Peer engaged in a hunger strike.

Would tapping into the city’s rainy day fund threaten their bond rating? According to the Center for Budget Policies, only when city governments tap into such funds to address structural deficits – which are systemic issues – would it look unfavorably to creditors.

Using funds for cyclical deficits or to protect social programs would not be viewed unfavorably. Peer 2 Peer’s programs would fall under the social programs category.

Within the church walls, BUILD members were not amenable to listening to anything less than full support for their two-option demands. Of the city council members present – Sharon Middleton, Mary Pat Clarke, Robert Curran, and Helen Holton – only Clarke and Middleton were in support of both.

Clarke was the only council member who publicly expressed her discomfort with receiving the pay raise.

Rawlings-Blake, who earlier was opposed to both options, changed her decision to undecided, the announcement of which came with sharp disapproval.

In total, about five of the 13-member council was in support, while the rest were either undecided, opposed, or 50 percent behind BUILD’s proposal.

One by one, BUILD leaders implored members to attend City Hall’s Board of Estimate meeting on Wednesday, December 17 at 8:30am to show their solidarity for the challenge, as well as at 6:30pm on Monday January 15 – Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday – at the Maryland General Assembly session in Annapolis.

City Council members were urged to ‘get on the bus’ to fight for youth and education funding - funding that has been historically slashed during budget shortfalls. The $1 billion Maryland projects for next year are no exception.

It was clear that evening, as a few members symbolically raised umbrellas to demonstrate that it was not only raining but storming on Baltimore’s citizens, that the priorities of the city's elected officials were irresponsible.

Since the announcement, Dixon and council members announced they would donate their pay raise to charity.