Officials appeal for school funds

January 20, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

It was begging day in Annapolis yesterday.

Over icy roads from across Maryland the supplicants arrived: county councilmen and school superintendents, state lawmakers and county executives, even private citizens.

They came to the State House with a common goal: to persuade Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the other two members of the Board of Public Works to award their jurisdiction more state money to build or renovate schools.

Mr. Schaefer plans to distribute at least $81 million in state funds to Baltimore and the 23 counties during the budget year that will begin July 1 to be used for school construction, renovations and repairs. Over the past eight years, the state has spent $561 million on public school construction, and more than $2 billion since 1971, said Yale Stenzler, executive director of the Interagency Committee on School Construction.

But it never seems to be enough.

The board yesterday approved dozens of projects across Maryland that will consume $43 million of the $81 million allowance, but the board reserved the balance to be doled out at a later meeting, probably in March.

It was with the hope of claiming a share of the remaining $38 million that officials from 17 jurisdictions came before the board on bended knees.

While their lobbying techniques varied widely, their message was usually the same. Enrollment in rapidly growing parts of their jurisdictions has expanded much faster than they can build schools, while older schools in more established communities are falling into disrepair, many with leaking roofs, inadequate plumbing or inefficient boilers.

* Like virtually all of the witnesses at yesterday's three-hour hearing, state Sen. Clarence W. Blount and other Baltimore lawmakers praised and flattered the governor and the board for all the help the state has given the city and counties in recent years.

"Education is the key to [correcting] everything I see wrong with our society," the Democratic senator said as he and other city lawmakers pressed for $2 million in state funds to build a $9 million school in Ashburton.

* Cecil County Del. Ronald A. Guns, seeking money to expand Cecil Manor Elementary School, read a letter from a student there who said: "Our class is like a sardine can and we're the sardines!"

* Charles County Sen. James C. Simpson brought along students who distributed to board members bumper stickers that declared Charles County's interest in "doing what is best" for its public schools.

* Montgomery County officials, claiming that one-third of the enrollment increase statewide over the past decade occurred in RTC their county, appealed for $35 million of the $38 million the board has set aside statewide.

"You must recognize the degree by which Montgomery County has contributed to the state," said County Executive Neal Potter, citing statistics about the millions of dollars in taxes that Montgomery residents have poured into the state treasury. "Many who come to Montgomery County to work do so because of Montgomery County's school system."

* Ray Keech, Harford County's superintendent, said his list of new construction and modernization projects had the unified backing of the Board of Education, the County Council, the county executive and the legislative delegation.

"We sing in harmony, all out of the same hymnal," he said.

By contrast, Baltimore County presented a divided front, with the school superintendent, one of the county's senators and a citizens group each giving the board competing lists of priorities.

Superintendent Stuart Berger said the creation of the Cromwell Valley Elementary School as a "magnet school for technology" will relieve overcrowding at other schools and is the county's top priority.

Sen. Janice Piccinini urged the board to add classrooms and cafeteria space, respectively, to two overcrowded schools in the Owings Mills corridor, Fort Garrison and Glyndon.

Marita J. Cush of Catonsville, spokeswoman for a citizen task force that studied the overcrowding problem, urged that money be spent on schools in the southwestern part of the county, an area she said had been long ignored. Students jammed into schools there "are attempting to learn in closets, hallways and storage rooms," she said. How the additional state money will ultimately be distributed will be up to the board, with advice from Mr. Stenzler and his staff. In past years, the governor sometimes helped those jurisdictions that had been friendly to him on legislative matters and ignored those that had not.

After yesterday's marathon appeals hearing, the governor said he was more impressed with those jurisdictions that asked for money for their highest-priority project than he was with those that asked for far more projects and money than the board is likely to approve.

Only twice during the hearing did the governor indicate sympathy for particular projects, one on the Eastern Shore and the other in Western Maryland.

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