Gov. Parris N. Glendening reversed himself yesterday and promised Montgomery County he will put $1.7 million into this year's budget to hire additional teachers there, a year before his proposed statewide program for class-size reduction would go into effect.
The governor also held out the possibility that Howard County could qualify for up to $1 million to cut class sizes this year.
Glendening, who had previously told Montgomery officials they would have to wait until 2000, said he had decided to go ahead with funding this year for any jurisdiction that had a plan for reducing class size by the time state legislation establishing standards for the new teachers is passed.
Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction to have adopted such a plan.
Howard's plan is close to finished, and the governor expressed optimism that the county will act in time.
"I think what I see preliminarily is that they'll be eligible as well," Glendening said at a breakfast meeting of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.
Approval of the spending plan is by no means certain.
The governor's decision to get the program off to an early start in one or two counties -- the wealthiest in the state -- could create resentment among legislators from other jurisdictions.
Some legislators suggested yesterday that Glendening was caving in to pressure from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.
"We hope the governor will be considering constituents across the state and not just greasing the squeaky wheel in Montgomery County," said Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Howard Republican and the Senate minority leader.
Glendening's earlier decision had drawn loud criticism from Duncan, one of the governor's most active supporters in last year's election campaign.
During his race against Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, Glendening said he would launch a statewide program to hire 1,100 additional teachers this year.
After the election, he decided not to include money for the program in his initial budget proposal. Instead, he submitted legislation establishing accountability standards for such a program.
The governor explained that he delayed the funding to make sure plans were in place to spend the money wisely. His reasoning failed to satisfy critics such as Duncan, who protested that he was violating a campaign pledge.
Duncan said Montgomery was ready to move ahead with reducing class sizes and had made plans to hire 117 reading and math specialists in the fall.
At yesterday's breakfast, Glendening said he would include the money to launch the program this year in a supplemental budget request. He said Duncan's public complaints played no role in his decision.
The Montgomery executive said he was glad the governor changed his mind.
"I don't think he would have done it if it hadn't been raised publicly," Duncan said.
The governor's decision was not so pleasing to Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
"I think he's just succumbing to political pressure, and it shows the lack of a coherent education plan," the Baltimore Democrat said. "Folks got to understand that just getting money does not solve problems."
But Del. Kumar P. Barve, chairman of the Montgomery County House delegation, disputed Rawlings' charge.
"Exactly what kind of political pressure does a man who doesn't have to run for re-election feel?" said the Gaithersburg Democrat. Barve also discounted Duncan's role, saying the governor had rethought his position after meeting with Montgomery legislators.
The news that Howard County might also qualify for funding this year brought cheer to school system officials there.
"That would be marvelous. We'd like to do as much as we can as fast as we can," said Howard County schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan.
Caplan said the county's plan has been completed and has received the preliminary approval of the school board. She said the last remaining step is the board's approval of a budget -- including money to cover the county's share of the program.
Howard Superintendent Michael E. Hickey has said that he wants to reduce class sizes for first- and second-graders to a ratio of 19 students per teacher in 17 schools. Those schools would include nine that receive extra resources because of lower performance.
Under the plan Glendening announced in August, the state would focus its class-size reduction efforts on first- and second-grade reading and seventh-grade math classes. Educators have identified those levels as especially crucial to a student's success.
Sun reporters Candus Thomson, Erika D. Peterman and Matthew Mosk contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 2/06/99