Schmoke to delay lawsuit

January 20, 1995|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, heeding a request from Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said yesterday that the city will delay filing a lawsuit in an effort to force the state to boost funding to city schools.

Mr. Schmoke said Mr. Glendening asked for the delay so a meeting could be scheduled between the two men and top legislative leaders. He said he expects the meeting to be held soon.

"He's made no promises. He's just asked me to meet with him," the mayor said at his weekly news conference.

"I told him about my skepticism because it seemed that the problem on education funding has not been in the executive branch but has been in the legislature," the mayor said. "But we will have that meeting, and we'll see what comes out of it."

Mr. Glendening could not be reached for comment yesterday. But after Mr. Schmoke announced early last month that the city )) would file the suit, Mr. Glendening said he would try to resolve the matter "around the table or through the legislative process."

"I don't like court-imposed solutions," Mr. Glendening said at the time.

Mr. Schmoke's decision to put off filing the suit does not affect a pending lawsuit filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union, claiming that the state's method of school financing is unconstitutional because it deprives city children of an adequate education.

"Many of the issues we're likely to raise are already before the court now," Mr. Schmoke said.

Indeed, the ramifications of the delay may be more political than practical. Mr. Schmoke was one of the new governor's earliest and strongest supporters, and the mayor reiterated yesterday that he expects a "strong partnership" with Mr. Glendening's administration.

"The mayor is wise to hold back and meet with the governor to give him a sporting chance to resolve the issues," said Del. Frank D. Boston Jr., a Democrat who chairs the city's House delegation. "If they could be addressed, it would certainly save everyone a lot of money."

Also yesterday, Mr. Schmoke said he has found new allies in his quest for a state takeover of the Circuit Court -- a move that would save the city $6 million a year.

Representatives of the beverage industry and supermarkets are joining the city as a result of the mayor's plan to repeal the unpopular beverage container tax if the court takeover occurs.

"We could immediately repeal the container tax," the mayor said. "Without that kind of trade-off, we still need the revenue from that tax."

Meanwhile, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said she will introduce a bill Monday to phase out the container tax over three years.

"That's one we could do whether or not the courts get picked up," she said.

Mr. Schmoke's school funding decision marks the second time he has agreed to delay going to court against the state over the issue.

In 1993, he put off plans to file suit against the state after then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed a Commission on School Funding. The commission recommended an overhaul of the method of school funding, but its recommendation went nowhere in the General Assembly.

Early last month, Mr. Schmoke announced that he was reviving plans to file suit against the state in an attempt to substantially narrow the gap in per-pupil spending between the city and wealthy suburban school districts. Per pupil spending in Baltimore averages $5,391, compared with $7,544 in Montgomery County.

The city hired a Montgomery County law firm for $500,000 to file the suit.

"We've rallied, we've lobbied, we've had a governor's commission. We think we have made our case in a lot of different forums, yet we still have this financial disparity," the mayor said Dec. 1.

Five days later, the ACLU filed its own suit.

Yesterday, Mr. Schmoke said Mr. Glendening "has not indicated that he's going to have a major legislative proposal in 1995 that's going to resolve the school funding issue." But the mayor expressed the hope that, because the governor is from the Washington suburbs, "he may be able to craft something."

"He is aware of the fact that . . . we hired counsel, that we have a complaint [and] that we're about to go to court, and we still stand ready to," the mayor said.

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