Alonso says district has a "puncher's chance" at school construction plan

After joining with the mayor in Annapolis to tesify on behalf of school construction funds, city schools CEO Andres Alonso told the city school board Tuesday night that the district had a "puncher's chance" at garnering enough support to secure a steady stream of funding from the state to pay back billions of dollars he wants to borrow to renovate the system's decrepit facilities.

According to a story today by our City Hall Reporter Julie Scharper, MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake and Alonso presented a united front in the statehouse on Tuesday supporting a bill that would guarantee the state's contribution to city school construction, allowing the city to leverage bonds with the proceed.

Until then, and even still in some lawmakers' eyes, the two leaders have championed different plans. And that alone gives them pause.

The mayor has proposed a more fiscally conservative plan that would rebuild school infastructure slowly, but with new revenue. Her plan would also allow the system to float as much as $300 million in bonds.

Alonso however, has rolled out what he calls a "SMART" plan, which would require the system to borrow up to $1.2 billion--significantly more than its current borrowing authority--to rapidly address an estimated $2.8 billion need. The secured funding from the state would help to pay it back. The plan is modeled after one used for a massive facility overhaul in Greenville, SC.

The differing plans are proving problematic, as some lawmakers expressed concern that the schools chief and the mayor are not on the same page. 

And the state's executive director of the public school construction program said that the city's plan could be unfair to other districts if the state's overall construction funding drops at any point in the future.

At the board meeting, Alonso briefed board members and the audience on the status of the effort, but for the first time with a semi-defeated tone.

"We have a puncher's chance because we asked for something that is new, and something that is for Baltimore City, and not everybody else."

Culminating the board meeting was a presentation from the system's teaching and learning staff about the system's successful summer school program, which has made national headlines (after local ones, of course) for increasing student achievement and innovative ideas since it started in 2010.

The program's only challenge: the cancellation of days and the limitation in programming because it gets too hot in the summer to hold classes in buildings that aren't air-conditioned.

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