A year ago, city officials left Annapolis distraught, their plans to obtain massive funding for school construction in the General Assembly’s trash bin.
What a difference a year makes.
On Wednesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Schools CEO Andres Alonso and the city’s elected officials celebrated what they're calling a banner year at the General Assembly in which they pushed for and won passage of a $1.1 billion funding plan for city schools’ construction.
“This is a special, unique effort for Baltimore City,” Rawlings-Blake said at a City Hall news conference. “It is a landmark bill.”
Said state Sen. Verna L. Jones-Rodwell: “One year ago, I don’t think any of us thought we would be here.”
Along the way, officials said, their proposals appeared dead multiple times.
“There were several moments, in public and private, where we thought this wouldn’t happen,” Rawlings-Blake said. “But we were not deterred. ... Everyone refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Through an act of persistence, compromise and intense lobbying, city officials said they were able to bring about a deal, despite last year's resistence from state lawmakers.
The plan — which was fundamentally different from the block grant proposal city officials pushed for a year ago— requires Baltimore, the city school system and the state to put up $20 million a year each to help pay back $1 billion in bonds over the next 30 years. The Maryland Stadium Authority would sell the bonds and oversee the construction program.
The deal would use state lottery revenue and the expertise of the stadium authority to borrow enough to build 15 new city schools and renovate dozens more.
Michael J. Frenz, executive director of the stadium authority, acknowledged the deal was a diversion of the agency’s mission, but said he was glad to help.
“We don’t seek out these types of assignments that are away from our original mission, but, also, we’re here to serve,” he said.
City officials said Baltimore will double its funding to help pay for the projects.
The closed-door negotiations in Annapolis got intense, Alonso said, but he was impressed by the mayor’s ability to stay strong under pressure.
“We were in a room, and there were just three or four people in a room,” Alonso said. “She was heroic in some of these conversations."
The deal helps bolster Rawlings-Blake's goal of drawing 10,000 new families to Baltimore, she said.
“I can’t tell you how frustrated I get when someone says, ‘Oh, I moved out. I had a child who is about to enter the school system,’” the mayor said. “It’s a new day.”