Did the Kirwan Commission’s members visit Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts in Baltimore before making their costly recommendations?  They should have.

WBFF’s Project Baltimore last week broke a compelling investigative piece about a student attending Augusta Fells.  Over four years, Tiffany France’s son passed just three classes and earned a grade point average of 0.13. Even more revealing, his transcripts show his class rank is 62 of 120.  That leaves 58 students in his class with a 0.13 GPA or lower.[i]  Of the 434 students enrolled in 2019 at the school, only two tested proficient in math and two in English. Yet, 48%, nearly half the students, manage to graduate in four years.  

In response to the report, Governor Hogan told WBFF: “This is something I’m going to ask the inspector general to immediately look into. They have to get to the bottom of this and find out who’s responsible.”[ii]

Evidently, the Baltimore City Schools’ leadership has known for almost two years about the Augusta Fells problems.  Documents on official Baltimore City Public Schools letterhead obtained by WBFF reveal an ongoing investigation dating back to at least 2019 into “improper staff conduct” at the school.   The two documents, a memo with talking points about the investigation and a letter from the City Schools’ CEO, were given to public officials.

We already know the Maryland Education Association’s preferred solution, as well as its affiliate, the Kirwan Commission, spend more money.   

However, while city public school enrollment has been declining along with graduation and graduate college enrollment rates, school salaries have been soaring since 2018.  City Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises is the district’s highest-paid employee. Her salary is $339,000, which is up $22,000 in three years. She is the state’s highest-paid school leader.

Other Baltimore school employees are doing better too. In 2018, 767 school employees made more than $100,000. Three years later, that number has surged to 1,307. The highest-paid teacher made $156,600. The median teacher salary in the Baltimore City Schools is $73,592. [iii]

In 2019 Baltimore City Schools spent over $17,000 per pupil – more than every other large county in the state.

More spending alone will not provide any solace to Tiffany France. She has pulled her son out of Augusta Fells. He is now enrolled in an accelerated school program at Francis M. Wood in west Baltimore. If her son works hard, he could graduate by 2023.

The other Augusta Fells students and parents deserve better, beginning with real accountability from Baltimore public school educators.    Each of the Kirwan Commission members should volunteer to visit Augusta Fells Savage Institute to explain why their additional funding recommendations are not dependent upon educators obtaining better educational results. 

If the Kirwan commissioners think money alone will address Baltimore’s needs, they might consider how many of the city’s parents might trade their city schools for schools of the caliber of Harford’s if given the opportunity. Harford spends nearly $4,000 less per pupil.


[i] https://foxbaltimore.com/news/project-baltimore/city-student-passes-3-classes-in-four-years-ranks-near-top-half-of-class-with-013-gpa, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teX9dSHDLfY

[ii] https://www.foxnews.com/us/maryland-hogan-investigation-baltimore-augusta-fells

[iii] https://foxbaltimore.com/news/project-baltimore/as-graduation-rates-fall-city-schools-employees-earning-100k-nearly-doubles