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Whole hog for school repairs; Anne Arundel: County's large request suits 'smart growth' strategy to upgrade existing facilities.


JANET S. OWENS is not reticent when it comes to assembling her legislative agenda. She is asking Anne Arundel County's State House delegation to seek $50 million in state funds to begin the multimillion-dollar repair and renovation of county schools.

If the delegation can wrest half the amount the county executive desires, it will no doubt be crowned Annapolis' bring-home-the-bacon champs.

Aside from the fact that $50 million represents about one-fifth of the governor's school construction budget, the competition for those dollars will be intense.

Baltimore City and the other large counties -- Montgomery, Prince George's, Baltimore and Howard -- have their hands out for more school construction money. Other growing jurisdictions -- Carroll, Calvert, Harford and Frederick -- also have ballooning school-age populations. The fight in Annapolis over money available for school construction is likely to resemble starved lions feeding on a carcass.

From a policy standpoint, Anne Arundel's request, albeit extremely large, has some merit. All the money would be spent on repairing and upgrading existing schools.

This is in keeping with Gov. Parris N. Glendening's "smart growth" policy. Investing in schools will encourage private reinvestment in communities, which, in turn, will assist the governor's plan to discourage sprawl.

Unfortunately, school construction allocations frequently turn on political, rather than policy, considerations.

With a Democratic majority, the delegation is better positioned than it was in the previous four years, when it was fractured and out of favor with the governor.

The county's chance for securing the school repair money hinges on whether Ms. Owens and the delegation can present a united front in the General Assembly.

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