Clarke, delegate scrap over education money Jurisdictional rift may be widening

December 05, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

When the Baltimore City Council president began shoutin insults at the lawmaker from Prince George's County yesterday, it seemed to demonstrate that the jurisdictional rift that split the General Assembly two weeks ago may be widening.

Then, as the General Assembly balanced the state budget by cutting a local aid program dear to Montgomery and Prince George's counties, it was the lawmakers from the Washington suburbs who were offended and vowing revenge.

This time, the heated exchange at what normally would have been a dry workshop on education funding broke out between Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and state Del. Timothy F. Maloney, a Prince George's Democrat.

This time, it was Baltimore's pride that was hurt, and it was Ms. Clarke who was declaring to the state, "I'll see you in court."

The spat came even as state and county officials repeatedly commended one another for their renewed spirit of cooperation. They were gathered in Baltimore for the Maryland Association of Counties' three-day winter meeting.

Yesterday's issue was whether Maryland should do more to close the gap between the state's richest and poorest subdivisions on how much is spent on education. But the discussion deteriorated into a dispute over whether money alone will help Baltimore's school problems, or whether something more is needed.

By the time the two combatants had finished, Ms. Clarke was again raising the threat that the city and some of Maryland's poorest counties may join together to sue the state over the current school funding formula.

Mr. Maloney, who just took over as head of a House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for education spending, said, "Simply increasing education aid, and increasing teachers' salaries, will not address our primary goal." He insisted that what the city school system needs is better management, PTC more accountability to the state for its performance, and more determination to improve.

"We need a school system as concerned about the future of school children as they are for the future of the school bureaucracy," he said.

But Ms. Clarke complained that the delegate went too far when he brought up as an example of the city's problems a mishap in which some 11,000 textbooks stored in boxes and marked "LIB" for "library" were apparently shipped mistakenly to Baltimore's sister city in Liberia.

"I am outraged," said Ms. Clarke, her tone causing a hum in the audience of county officials. "I don't for one moment doubt that Delegate Maloney believes there is a [financing] disparity. But I don't think he cares."

Although she had recited a variety of recent improvements in the city schools, she said the issue should not be construed as solely a Baltimore issue. Rather, she said, it is one that affects all Maryland jurisdictions where less is spent per pupil than the statewide average.

"We have excellent schools, fine teachers. Don't talk about us that way," she said angrily. "I would rather lose every bit of state aid than have you talk about us like that. Shame on you."

Mr. Maloney, his face suddenly crimson, jumped to his feet to respond, saying he took "strong exception" to Ms. Clarke's comments and noting he has supported a variety of education and other aid programs that have specifically helped the city. Votes in favor of most of those programs were opposed by his own constituents, he said.

Afterward, Mr. Maloney said he believes the city would be making a huge political mistake if it sues the state over education funding.

Such an action, he said, would further polarize an already deeply divided legislature and threaten programs desperately needed by the city.

"What Baltimore needs, is to make friends," Mr. Maloney said.

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