Schaefer's plan for schools fund draws opponents

February 23, 1991|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland's worsening financial crisis, coupled with strong opposition from local educators, may have doomed an administration proposal to spend $19 million on a "Schools for Success Fund," despite a personal appeal yesterday by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Yesterday, the governor urged members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to pass the bill this year. Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, who chairs the committee, said he saw little chance of that happening.

"The opposition was so overwhelming it was amazing," said Senator Levitan. "The consensus by the counties and the local school boards just absolutely blasted it as something they don't want to see."

The administration has proposed transferring money from its "Action Plan for Educational Excellence" fund to pay for a series of initiatives aimed at increasing local school accountability and providing challenge grants and teacher training.

"This money, part of it, should go to new thinking in education. It's a real challenge," the governor said of his proposal yesterday. "But it needs to be done this year."

Local administrators and school officials have bristled at the idea of the state's tampering with the money, saying they are better qualified to determine how it should be spent in their jurisdictions. The program is scheduled to provide $878 million next year, an $82 million increase over this year. The larger portions of the funds are distributed to school systems in poorer subdivisions of the state, such as Baltimore.

Some of the opponents, such as Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden, said they were not opposed to the bill's objectives.

"We all seek the same objective of improved educational results," said Mr. Hayden. "My opposition to this legislation lies in the source of its funding."

Robert Y. Dubel, Baltimore County's school superintendent, said his appearance at yesterday's hearing was "the first time I can remember coming here to oppose a piece of legislation sponsored by the State Board of Education."

In addition to the strong local opposition, other factors imperil the administration's bill. Recent estimates that Maryland may face a further deficit of between $75 million and $108 million in its current budget, despite compensations already made for a $423 million shortfall, have made the fund, known by the acronym APEX, a likely target for legislators seeking to balance the budget.

"We're going to have to cut money out of APEX to start with to balance the budget," said Senator Levitan. "Much of APEX is used to enhance salaries, and we've made it very clear that we don't think the locals should increase salaries."

Senator Levitan said he and Delegate Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, would be sending a letter to county officials saying it was not a good time to use state money to raise teacher salaries. This sentiment largely stems from the fact that state employees are not getting pay raises, said Senator Levitan.

During the hearing, Senate Minority Leader John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, told opponents that given fiscal realities, they shouldn't rely on getting the APEX money they might have factored into their school budgets for the coming fiscal year.

"If I were you, I wouldn't count on that going to the bank," he said.

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