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Pass fair school funding bill, BUILD warns legislators


Bolstered by the cheers of more than 1,000 supporters, the leaders of one of Baltimore's most powerful grass-roots organizations sent a blunt message yesterday to the city's General Assembly delegation:

Bring home a bill from Annapolis next year that eliminates statewide inequities in school funding or start looking for a new job.

"We have our eyes on the city delegation, and our vision is good, and our memory is eternal," warned the Rev. Curtis Jones, co-chair of BUILD -- Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development -- at its 1991 meeting at the Convention Center. "We'd rather reward you with re-election than punish you with early retirement."

They were plenty of politicians around to hear the threat, including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, state Sen. Clarence W. Blount, Delegate Howard P. Rawlings and even Gov. William Donald Schaefer. One by one, the city's elected officials pledged to make equity in school funding their top priority in 1992.

But their assurances were questioned by BUILD's leaders, who accused the city's delegates and senators of failing to push hard enough for enactment of the Linowes Commission report during the 1991 legislative session.

Last year, the commission proposed a complete overhaul in the way the state raises and spends money -- changes that would pump millions of dollars into the impoverished school systems of Baltimore and Maryland's rural counties. The governor introduced a bill based on the commission's findings, but it was consigned to summer study after being attacked in the General Assembly for its $800 million price tag.

"We didn't see our own delegation standing up on this issue," declared Carol Reckling, a former co-chair of BUILD who serves on its parent organization's national leadership team. "We can't have that again."

BUILD, a coalition of about 45 area churches, plans to launch a statewide campaign for tax reform to win more money for Baltimore's troubled school system. The organization has enlisted the aid of a sister group in Prince George's County called Interfaith Action Communities, Howard County Clergy for Social Justice and five school superintendents from rural counties, who have even less money to spend per pupil than Baltimore.

Governor Schaefer told the crowd he would push for tax reform again in 1992 as long as he had BUILD's backing.

"If you're committed," he declared, "I'm committed."

Ms. Reckling called on the city's legislators to use every available weapon to get a tax reform measure passed in 1992.

"If you need to filibuster, then do it," Ms. Reckling said. "If you need to vote against a road in another county to leverage votes, then do it. Be militant."

Senator Blount was told to forget about his reputation as a gentleman and take off his gloves for the fight. Delegate Rawlings was told to find new ways to push for reform instead of pointing out his past support for it.

But state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and Governor Schaefer had messages of their own for BUILD.

While Ms. Hoffman promised to work for tax reform, she said BUILD must help convince suburban legislators to back a bill.

"You're preaching to the converted when you're preaching to the city delegation," she said. "It takes more than that to get anything accomplished."

Governor Schaefer also criticized BUILD for failing to generate much grass-roots support for the Linowes findings during the 1991 session.

"Where were you when a member of the legislature said the Linowes Commission report was dead?" Mr. Schaefer demanded. "Where were you?"

Instead of being deluged with demands for reform, the legislature was inundated with calls for no new taxes and no new spending, he said.

"I'll defend members of the legislature," Mr. Schaefer said. "They do what the majority of people want."

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