Hearing on city school aid set today Other jurisdictions also want more funds

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Backers of legislation that would give the state a bigger role in running Baltimore's schools in return for $254 million in extra aid over five years formally begin their politically arduous effort to sell the plan today.

With the first legislative hearing on the matter scheduled for this morning in Annapolis, lawmakers from other jurisdictions have begun floating proposals that would funnel large increases in state spending to their counties as well.

One plan crafted by officials from Prince George's County and supported by County Executive Wayne K. Curry would increase state spending on schools outside of Baltimore by $108 million a year -- which would in effect triple the cost of the city school aid package.

Without the aid for Prince George's, the county's legislators say they are prepared to oppose the Baltimore package.

"We just want the state to provide similar help to improve the education of poor kids in Prince George's County," said Del. James C. Rosapepe, a Prince George's Democrat. Under the proposal, Prince George's would receive about $31 million a year in extra aid, compared with the roughly $50 million proposed for Baltimore.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary also are expected to remind lawmakers that their counties have needs, although it's not clear how much extra state aid the two are seeking.

"We want to make sure the aid is targeted to poor people, no matter where they live," said Del. Kumar Barve, head of the Montgomery House delegation. Barve noted that his county has half of all students in the state for whom English is a second language.

Lawsuits settled

The proposed aid for Baltimore results from the settlement of three lawsuits seeking more state aid and improvements in the city schools. The settlement is contingent, however, on General Assembly approval of the increase in state education aid.

As part of the settlement, a new school board would be created, with its members appointed jointly by the governor and mayor. In addition, the top management of the school system would be replaced.

While backers of the Baltimore school-aid package have long expected other jurisdictions to use the proposal as leverage to gain more state money for themselves, some are worried about the level of rhetoric in the State House.

Some legislators are saying that there is less support at this point in this year's session for the city schools plan than there was last year for the new Ravens and Redskins stadiums -- big-ticket items that barely squeaked through the Assembly.

It is that kind of talk that has Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount, the highly regarded senior member of Baltimore's Senate delegation, worried about the proposal's chances.

"Sure it's in trouble. It's never been out of trouble," Blount said yesterday. "Some of it is posturing, but I got news for you: The votes are not there, and that's not posturing."

Along with Baltimore legislators, the Glendening administration and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will be leading the effort to approve the schools deal.

Glendening said he remained confident.

"We're not even to the halfway point," he said of the 90-day legislative session. "In the first half, we philosophize and educate, and there are opportunities for lobbying and public hearings, but in the second half you get down to whatever is needed to get the votes together.

"We have not broken a knee-cap yet," he added, smiling.

The governor is dispatching a group from his Cabinet -- including education Secretary Nancy S. Grasmick, public safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson and economic development Secretary James T. Brady -- to testify at the joint hearing of the House Appropriations and Ways and Means committees.

The Baltimore schools proposal also has the strong -- and crucial -- backing of the leaders of the two legislative budget committees, Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and Del. Howard P. Rawlings, both city Democrats.

Hoffman said she could not differentiate the posturing from real opposition at this point and could not offer an assessment as to whether the deal was in trouble.

"I don't know how it's all going to work out," she said.

Rawlings said last night he didn't think the state could afford to pump another $108 million into education, on top of the Baltimore school aid, and cut income taxes as has been proposed by Glendening and others.

Implied threat

He also railed against the implied threat by the Prince George's County delegation to block the Baltimore aid package unless Prince George's receives a comparable increase.

"Those are fighting words," Rawlings said.

Baltimore County officials hope to win extra school-construction money this year, but they have resisted public criticism of the city's aid package.

"I'm going to support -- or not support -- the schools deal on its merits," said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat. "I'm not going to support it because someone steps up with five pieces of silver for my county

"If we're doing the right thing for the kids of Baltimore city, then the issue should be judged on its merits," he said. "If it's not the right thing to do, then let's kill it and start over."

Pub Date: 1/30/97

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