City schools a step closer to cut in aid House panel votes to cancel $5.9 million, says reforms lagging

'Sad for the children'

Officials warn that classrooms would feel impact

March 09, 1996|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

Ignoring the protests of city school administrators, a House committee in Annapolis has voted to cancel $5.9 million in education aid to Baltimore.

The legislature decided last year to withhold the money temporarily to pressure the city school system to adopt management reforms recommended by a consulting firm. Yesterday, the Appropriations Committee decided that not enough progress had been made to justify releasing the funds.

With one dissenting vote, the 27-member panel approved a bill ** that would permanently delete the money from the state budget.

"I don't know how clear we can be," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who is the committee's chairman and the bill's chief sponsor. "When they fail, they are the ones who should suffer the consequences."

The full House of Delegates is expected to approve the bill next week. The measure then would be considered by the state Senate, which endorsed the initial withholding of the money last year.

Nancy S. Grasmick, the state school superintendent, also has expressed support for the legislation.

The bill specifies that the city make up for the lost funds through dTC

a 25 percent cut in the wages and benefits paid for school administration. But city school officials have warned that the impact of any reduction in state aid would be felt in classrooms.

"We're very disappointed and sad for the children," said Nat Harrington, a spokesman for the city schools. "It's unfortunate the way that members of the General Assembly think they can reform the school system. It's ill-advised."

School officials said they had made substantial progress toward meeting the management reform goals and that many of the additional steps would cost money the system doesn't have.

Mr. Rawlings said school performance appears to be worsening and that the system isn't responding to the problems with the proper urgency. He pointed out that the school system agreed five years ago to abide by the consultant's recommendations.

Committee member Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, offered an amendment that would have sent the $5.9 million to the state Department of Education to assist the city with management reforms. It was defeated.

"My point was to get the money back to the kids," Mr. Rosenberg said afterward.

Del. Joan N. Parker, a Baltimore County Democrat who cast the only vote against the bill, said the measure is well-intentioned but that most of her constituents see it as an effort to unfairly punish the city schools.

"We all agree there must be change, and it must be substantial," she said. "I don't think we do that when we strike out in a punitive manner."

Mr. Rawlings' committee is expected to vote soon to withhold from next year's budget an additional $14.6 million in aid to the city schools. At issue is the city's failure to agree to terms of a proposed city-state partnership to manage the school system in the future.

Talks involving Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Gov. Parris N. Glendening over the proposed partial state takeover of city schools have been fruitless.

Baltimore receives more than $400 million in education aid annually, 20 percent of the state's total budget for schools.

Pub Date: 3/09/96

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