Baltimore delegates yesterday threatened to vote en masse against this year's state budget unless an amendment allowing the state to intervene in city school matters is withdrawn or defeated.
"There's going to be war on the floor," declared Del. Frank D. Boston Jr., chairman of the city's House delegation, at a hastily called meeting of the group.
He and other city delegates called the amendment unnecessary, an embarrassment to the city and an attempt to bust unions that have contracts with the school system.
The amendment -- which is opposed by the mayor and the city school superintendent -- would withhold $4.8 million in state aid to Baltimore schools unless the school system agreed to implement recommendations contained in a highly critical consultant's study.
City officials would have to enter a three-year agreement with the state Department of Education, which would monitor the city's progress.
The controversial amendment was attached to the budget bill -- which comes up for a final vote in the House this week -- at the instigation of Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, and subcommittee Chairman Timothy F. Maloney, a Democrat from Prince George's County.
For the second consecutive day, Mr. Rawlings found himself yesterday in the uncomfortable position of defending the amendment from attacks by members of his own delegation, some viewing him as if he were a traitor.
Several legislators suggested that Mr. Rawlings was taking a political swipe at Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, while others viewed the dispute as a battle of egos over who knows what's best for the city schools.
Mr. Rawlings, however, said he is simply concerned about the education of city students and does not want the opportunity for change to be missed.
And he warned that if city delegates vote against the budget, other members of the General Assembly could retaliate by opposing expensive capital projects important to the city, such as the Christopher Columbus Center and expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center.
"Very few people have as clear a view about what management changes are needed in the school system as I do," Mr. Rawlings said, elaborating on his views in an interview after the meeting. He said he first drafted a version of the contested amendment some three months ago.
Mr. Rawlings argued that neither city officials nor the city's business community recognizes or appreciates the magnitude of state aid to city schools -- an infusion of some $1.7 billion over the last six years. Sixty percent of the city school budget is paid by the state, he added.
The amendment "recognizes the frustration state officials have in sending millions into the school system, with very little perceived improvement" in school performance, attendance or the dropout rate, Mr. Rawlings said. "This study is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make systemic changes."
The study, paid for by Associated Black Charities, the Abell Foundation and other groups, recommended that principals be given more authority to make hiring, firing and purchasing decisions and otherwise run their own schools.
It also suggested that good teachers be rewarded, and that bad ones be retrained or dismissed.
But city school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey told the delegation that he is already implementing many of the consultant's recommendations.
"The legislation definitely is not needed," Dr. Amprey said.
And he said that requiring a new agreement with the Department of Education would only delay implementation of the very changes the Appropriations Committee wants.
Legislators, speculating on why Mr. Rawlings would seemingly turn on his own city, suggested that while he likes Mayor Schmoke, he does not believe the mayor has the guts to do what has to be done, including tangle with the Baltimore Teachers Union and other union groups.