By unexpectedly pledging $1.7 million in new state aid to hire teachers in Montgomery County, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has opened the door to a "me, too" rush by the rest of Maryland's counties.
Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties quickly followed Montgomery's lead and are clamoring for more state money. Other counties are expected to do the same.
Glendening may have a hard time rejecting such requests after approving aid for Montgomery, one of the state's wealthiest jurisdictions, legislators said.
"He's placed himself in a very delicate political position," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, head of the House Appropriations Committee. "Other jurisdictions would like additional education funds as well."
During his re-election campaign last year, Glendening announced he would push for a four-year, phased-in initiative to use state funds to hire 1,100 teachers to reduce the number of pupils in early reading and middle-school mathematics classes.
The governor introduced legislation to create the program last month. But he postponed funding for a year, saying he wanted to give the counties time to submit to state education officials a plan for reducing the size of first- and second-grade reading and seventh-grade math classes. Glendening's legislation also would require counties to use the first wave of the money in areas of high poverty.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan criticized Glendening for the delay, saying the county had the necessary plan in place and was counting on the money. Montgomery legislators also urged Glendening to reverse himself.
This month, he consented and announced he would put the money for Montgomery in a supplemental budget to be delivered to the General Assembly in the next few weeks.
Joseph Bryce, a lobbyist for the governor, said he expects to be hit with a number of aid requests from other counties. He said it was unclear what kind of response they will receive from Glendening.
"I think the context in which the governor heard from [Montgomery officials] is that they have a program that is up and running," Bryce said. "I don't know that other counties are able at this point in time to demonstrate that they are identical to Montgomery County."
But officials from several counties appear poised to make the same case that Montgomery did.
Last week, the Baltimore County school board moved quickly to approve a plan for reducing class sizes, and county officials are asking Glendening for additional state funds to help pay for it.
Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said the governor must have been expecting such requests when he agreed to the Montgomery money.
"We hope to move forward in an equal manner," Ruppersberger said. "But at this point, the governor has been so good to us, hopefully it's something he anticipated."
Howard County schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey faxed a request to Glendening last week, noting that the county has a plan to reduce class size.
Similarly, Anne Arundel County has had a program in place for two years and will be seeking state assistance in coming weeks, officials said.
"We would be grateful for any amount we could get," said Nancy Mann, assistant superintendent of the Anne Arundel school system.
Should Glendening decide to commit money for the rest of the state this year, the cost would be about $10 million for about 270 teachers. Once fully implemented, the program is expected to cost the state $43 million.
Even if the governor agrees to more aid for other counties this year, such requests might receive a skeptical response in the General Assembly.
House and Senate leaders are gearing up to cut more than $140 million from the governor's $9 billion general fund budget to adhere to the legislature's self-imposed spending limits. Extra education aid would add to their budget problems, legislators said.
"Where is the money coming from? Anybody got any ideas?" asked Baltimore Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, head of the Senate budget committee.
Pub Date: 2/14/99