Panel reduces school funding threat STATE HOUSE REPORT

March 16, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Before giving final approval to its version of the state budget for next year, the House Appropriations Committee scaled back its plan to withhold funds from the Baltimore school system if city officials fail to adopt a series of recommended changes.

Appropriations Committee members initially recommended withholding nearly $27 million -- the expected increase in school aid to Baltimore this year -- unless the city adopts recommendations contained in a consultant's study highly critical of the school system. In a vote late Friday night, the committee reduced the amount to $4.8 million, which is equivalent to six months of administrative costs in the school system.

Legislators and city officials alike said yesterday that the amount of money was not the point.

Lawmakers said the point is that the General Assembly is tired of pumping millions of dollars in state aid into the city school system without seeing better results.

"It reflects an end to an era when legislators have historically written a blank check, or just signed over the check and sent the money without asking serious questions and without demanding stronger forms of accountability," said Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the committee and is a prime mover behind the proposal to withhold the funds.

City officials, however, say the point is that the legislature is intruding into the operation of Baltimore schools in an unprecedented way.

Nat Harrington, spokesman for the city schools, reaffirmed School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's opposition to any such legislative intrusion and said withholding any amount of money would be "devastating."

"I don't think the size of the cuts would make a difference," Mr. Harrington said. "I think he [Mr. Amprey] feels it's bad public policy."

Mr. Harrington said the school system already has begun reducing its bureaucracy, and making many of the changes recommended in a pair of management consulting studies, including the report cited by the Appropriations Committee.

"Any further reductions will definitely hurt children," he said.

Del. Timothy F. Maloney, the Prince George's County Democrat who chairs an Appropriations subcommittee that recommended withholding $27 million, said the full committee reduced the amount out of fear it could be accused of hurting students.

"We wanted to make sure that nobody was going to withhold textbooks the day after Labor Day and say it was the Appropriations Committee's fault," he said.

By withholding the funds, the committee hopes to pressure city school officials to adopt recommendations made last summer by a private consulting firm called Towers Perrin/Cresap. The report suggested that school principals be given more authority, that good schools be rewarded, and that ways be found to more easily get rid of bad principals or teachers.

Mr. Maloney, who Friday called the $27 million figure "a substantial amount . . . that will get the attention of the Board of Education," said even at $4.8 million, the city will take notice.

"It is still a big hammer," he said. "A very big hammer."

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