Counties might not get funds for schools; Plans not in place to reduce class sizes in Baltimore, Howard

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Howard and Baltimore counties appear to be striking out in their efforts to win state aid to hire more teachers next fall.

The two counties pressed for the state funds after Gov. Parris N. Glendening reversed himself and agreed to give $1.7 million this year to Montgomery County as part of his proposal to reduce class sizes.

But a spokesman for Glendening said yesterday that the governor is not likely to commit new funds for other counties unless they have already launched a class-size reduction plan.

In the Baltimore area, it appears that only Anne Arundel County has taken such steps. Other counties, including Baltimore and Howard, have approved plans for cutting class sizes -- but they won't be put into effect until next fall.

Glendening's insistence on having a class-size reduction plan in effect now dismayed some county officials, who thought the governor said last month that counties could qualify for money simply by adopting a plan for the future.

"How can they expect you to have a plan in place?" said Howard County schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, noting that the state money, if approved during the current General Assembly session, will not be available until July 1. "That was absolutely not my understanding of it at all."

"That is an absolute change. That is a new statement," said Patrick Roddy, Baltimore County's lobbyist in Annapolis.

Ray Feldmann, the governor's press secretary, said Glendening had not changed his position since he announced he would be giving the extra money to Montgomery. Feldmann said other counties were possibly guilty of wishful thinking.

"Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in line," Feldmann said. "Anybody can have a plan. The line in the sand is to have a plan in place and working."

While Glendening may decide that other counties besides Montgomery meet his criteria, budgetary concerns may preclude any additional state funding, Feldmann said.

The governor's proposed $9 billion general fund budget is about $140 million above the General Assembly's self-imposed spending limits, meaning significant cuts in his spending plan will have to be made. Until the legislature makes those cuts, the governor will not know how much, if any, money he has to propose for new spending such as the class-size reduction initiative, Feldmann said.

Glendening made a campaign pledge last year to use state funds to hire more than 1,000 teachers for first- and second-grade reading and seventh-grade math classes. Although the governor is seeking legislative approval for the concept, he decided to postpone funding of the program for a year.

Under criticism from Montgomery County officials for postponing the funding, Glendening unexpectedly announced last month that he would find $1.7 million for Montgomery this year. He suggested that Howard and other counties could be eligible, too.

Several counties quickly jumped on the announcement, adopting class-size reduction plans and making funding requests.

The Howard school system plans to reduce first- and second-grade class sizes in half of its elementary schools to 19 pupils per teacher in September, and cut ninth-grade English and math class sizes to 18.5 students.

If the state wishes, Hickey said, he would cut seventh-grade math class enrollments as well.

Baltimore County's school budget calls for adding 50 state-funded teachers to cut class sizes in beginning reading instruction and in seventh-grade math classes. Without the state money, "those teachers are gone," said Elise Armacost, spokeswoman for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Anne Arundel officials say they've had a systemwide class reduction plan in effect for two years. Ten teachers added this year cut average class sizes to 25, and plans for 34 new first-grade teachers next year are to cut that level to 20 pupils per class, said Gregory Nourse, Anne Arundel school budget officer.

Montgomery County cut reading class sizes to 15 children this year in first and second grades at about half the county's elementary schools, said school system spokeswoman Kate Harrison. Ninth-grade classes were cut to 20 students per teacher, she said.

Pub Date: 3/05/99

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