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Baltimore mayor plans to use budget surplus for school construction

Baltimore Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young plans to use the city’s projected budget surplus to help fund a massive school infrastructure plan, his spokesman said Wednesday.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young plans to use the city’s projected budget surplus to help fund a massive school infrastructure plan, his spokesman said Wednesday. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young plans to use the city’s projected budget surplus to help fund a massive school infrastructure plan, his spokesman said Wednesday.

The mayor’s pledge comes roughly a month before the General Assembly session begins. The first bill expected to be introduced by lawmakers in Annapolis would dramatically increase funding for public school construction.

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The plan — dubbed the “Built to Learn Act” — would send $2.2 billion more to Maryland counties to help pay for renovating and building schools. To access those funds, local governments would also have to kick in some of their own money.

Spokesman Lester Davis said the mayor plans to spend the projected $34 million budget surplus to help fulfill the city’s contribution to the plan. The anticipated local share for Baltimore is $39.5 million, with the state then providing about $400 million.

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The surplus allocation “gets us 90% of the way there to meeting our match on this groundbreaking legislation,” Davis said.

There will be two massive schools spending plans before the General Assembly this year: one dealing with school infrastructure and another focused on education-related improvements. The latter, assembled by the so-called Kirwan Commission, calls for $4 billion more to be spend each year on initiatives like expanded prekindergarten, stronger career and technology training, increased teacher salaries and more resources for high-poverty schools.

Young initially said he wanted to use the surplus money as part of the city’s contribution to the Kirwan plan; Baltimore might have to come up with more than $100 million by 2022 to help pay for it.

Davis said Wednesday that the switch did not represent a “change of heart” on the mayor’s commitment to Kirwan. Rather, he said, it’s an investment within the "whole landscape of needs for our public school system.”

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Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones’ chief of staff said Baltimore is “ahead of the curve” in preparing financially for the Built to Learn Act.

“The speaker gives great credit to Mayor Young for stepping up ahead of the legislative session to really help advance the ball on this legislation,” Alexandra Hughes said.

Young and City Council President Brandon Scott — both running in the Democratic primary for mayor — have sparred over how to use the budget surplus. Both men believe it should go toward schools, but disagree on what is a higher priority within the education sphere.

Scott wrote in a letter to the mayor last month that the city should devote the city’s budget surplus to helping the school system finally outfit all its buildings with functional air conditioning and heating systems. Scott said the administration should spend a little more than half of the surplus to pay for HVAC renovations at nine buildings for which the school system hasn’t secured funding for the work.

It’s unclear at this point which construction projects the infrastructure bill would target, or if the district could use the money toward HVAC projects. The district faces a roughly $3 billion maintenance backlog.

“City Schools welcomes any support that City leadership offers to ensure our students have access to the facilities and programming they deserve," a district spokesperson wrote in a statement. "Progress is underway with our school renovation plan, yet funding limitations continue to slow the pace of progress toward ensuring all students have access to 21st Century facilities.”

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