Schaefer backs funds to replace Ashburton school

June 18, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Matt Ebnet contributed to this article.

Threatened for the past two months by a political feud, state funds critical to replacing a decrepit Baltimore elementary school now appear secure.

In an about-face, Gov. William Donald Schaefer pledged yesterday to recommend $4.5 million in state money to help replace the 45-year-old Ashburton Elementary School in West Baltimore.

"We will recommend to the board that this be included in the extra money that we have," the governor told a crowd of about 40 teachers, parents, community leaders and local legislators.

The governor's comments came after a lengthy tour of the building and all but assure that children at Ashburton will have a new school in the next couple of years.

Mr. Schaefer is a member of the Maryland Board of Public Works, which oversees distribution of tens of millions of dollars annually for public school construction. The board's two other members, Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and Treasurer Lucille Maurer, have said they support the Ashburton project.

Ashburton became an issue in April after the governor refused to recommend funding for the school in what was by all accounts a political payback aimed at a Baltimore state senator whose district borders the school. The senator, Clarence W. Blount, had helped kill two of the governor's bills during this year's legislative session.

Asked yesterday why he had changed his mind, Mr. Schaefer did not answer directly. Instead, he talked about the millions of dollars he has helped funnel to his hometown to renovate old schools and build new ones.

"We have put a tremendous amount of school construction in the city -- more than any governor in the history of the state," Mr. Schaefer said.

The governor's decision followed a heavy lobbying campaign that has included written appeals by city school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, city legislators and at least 35 fourth- and fifth-graders at the school.

In addition to Ashburton, the governor pledged support yesterday for three other school construction projects after visiting sites in Harford, Cecil and Baltimore counties. They are:

* $684,000 to help build an 18,000-square-foot addition to Western School of Technology and Environmental Science in Catonsville.

* $2.6 million for a renovation of Cecil Manor Elementary School in Elkton.

* $1.8 million for an addition to C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air.

The money for the Baltimore County project would help build 14 new classrooms and allow the program at Western to expand from 750 to 1,000 students by 1995.

Mr. Schaefer is expected to recommend all four projects to the board June 29. Although Mr. Goldstein could not be reached for comment yesterday, Mrs. Maurer said she supported all four and called their chances "excellent."

The board has allocated about $94 million in school construction money this year. The remaining $12 million would easily cover the four projects.

The governor's visit to Ashburton yesterday was long on political theater. Baltimore state legislators Howard P. Rawlings, Tony Fulton and Ralph Hughes stood on the sidewalk waiting in the heat to greet Mr. Schaefer's tour bus.

Just before the governor arrived with an entourage of 12, Delegate Rawlings half-jokingly sprayed breath freshner in his mouth.

"I'm even going to button my coat and pull my stomach in," said the rotund and powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who lives about five blocks away.

The tour of the school was more sober. Principal Frances Ellington showed Mr. Schaefer peeling paint, the cramped library and modular classrooms she has used to house the overflow enrollment of 320.

"That's a depressing thing to me," the governor said, looking at paint peeling next to cloudy windows.

Mr. Schaefer saw few students, since the tour came after classes let out. But several teachers offered him grim assessments of the building.

"Even when I move my desks together, groups of four and five are tripping over each other," said Daniel Sussman, who teaches second grade.

Before boarding his bus, Mr. Schaefer spoke about the fracture in his long friendship with Mr. Blount, which had threatened the school's funding.

"I was very hurt by him," the governor said, referring to Mr. Blount's lack of support for his AIDS reporting bill and another dealing with the regulation of nontidal wetlands.

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