State spurns Baltimore school funding request

April 21, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Gary Gately and Patrick Gilbert contributed to this article.

In an apparent political payback, Gov. William Donald Schaefer persuaded the Maryland Board of Public Works yesterday to refuse funding for school construction in Baltimore and Cecil County and reward fast-growing Howard and Montgomery counties with $23 million for education projects.

Those familiar with the selection process said Mr. Schaefer didn't recommend city and Cecil projects because he was unhappy with Baltimore Sen. Clarence W. Blount and Cecil County Sen. Walter M. Baker. Both are powerful committee chairmen who did not support several of the governor's initiatives during the legislative session that ended 10 days ago.

The board allocated $50 million yesterday to 17 school districts to cover projects ranging from additions to crowded schools to roofs to replace those that leak. The board's decision was part of the process of dividing Maryland's massive $106 million school construction budget -- the largest in nearly 20 years.

While many expected Montgomery and Howard to do well -- they received $15.9 million and $7.2 million respectively -- the tiny allocation of $513,000 for Baltimore caught city lawmakers by surprise. Upon learning that Baltimore received only a small percentage of the $5 million it had requested, city legislators called the paltry sum a slap in the face and said they would work to change the board's mind.

"I'm just perplexed, outraged, annoyed, angry," said Baltimore Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. "Clearly, this is not a fair share for Baltimore City."

Said Baltimore Sen. Barbara Hoffman: "It's a slap at all of us. I will definitely be in touch with the Board of Public Works."

After the board meeting, the governor left and was unavailable for comment.

The governor is one of three members of the board, which includes state Treasurer Lucille Maurer and Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein.

Responding to complaints that Baltimore was shortchanged, the governor's press secretary, Page W. Boinest, said: "Traditionally, the governor's been criticized for giving too much aid to Baltimore City, so I guess you can't win."

The governor's recommendation seemed ironic for a man who has often championed the city he led as mayor for 15 years. Specifically, the governor did not support the city's biggest request -- $4.5 million to replace West Baltimore's Ashburton Elementary School, which abuts Mr. Blount's legislative 41st District.

The proposed building would replace the current school -- a decrepit 45-year-old former synagogue at 3935 Hilton Road -- and accommodate about 600 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

The allocation "was such a small amount, we couldn't believe it," said Baltimore Superintendent Walter G. Amprey of the decision not to fund the school. "We were convinced it was a mistake."

Mr. Blount's Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee killed at least two of the governor's bills during the 1994 legislative session. The committee also sat on a proposal the governor backed to reform the legislature's multimillion-dollar scholarship program.

Mr. Blount was on vacation yesterday and could not be reached. In his absence, though, fellow legislators rose to his defense.

"Clarence has been a soldier for this governor," said Mr. Rawlings, who pointed out that Baltimore legislators overwhelmingly supported the governor's failed cigarette tax in the House during the session. The decision not to fund the school is particularly irksome for Mr. Rawlings, because it is in his 40th District.

Election-year concerns

In addition to being concerned about education, city legislators were alarmed to see the small amount for Baltimore because this is an election year and they would like to return home with tangible projects for their constituents.

That desire, shared by legislators across the state, helped push the current school construction budget to a near-record level.

Baltimore did receive money for roof projects at City College and Samuel Morse Elementary. But for a city struggling to repair 55 of its 177 schools -- many of them more than 40 years old -- the money falls far short, school officials said.

The state initially allocated $43 million of its school construction money in January. Baltimore received $2.9 million then.

Another senator to apparently feel the governor's wrath was Mr. Baker, the conservative chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

As in years past, Mr. Baker was the leading legislative opponent to the governor's bill to ban assault pistols. More important, perhaps, his committee gutted a gambling oversight bill that the governor supported and killed two of Mr. Schaefer's four tobacco-related bills.

Cecil County had requested only $2.4 million for an addition and renovation to Cecil Manor Elementary, but received nothing. Mr. Baker was philosophical.

"If they want to deny me one year, if that satisfies their goals, fine," Mr. Baker said. "Usually I do get what I want the next year."

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