City school aid freeze is likely Assembly move seeks major state role, with $24 million at stake

'Unhelpful' to negotiations

Budget's ratification by Md. House, Senate could come today

April 02, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron and Peter Jensen | Thomas W. Waldron and Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jean Thompson contributed to this article.

General Assembly budget negotiators have agreed to withhold $24 million in aid for Baltimore schools in an effort to force city officials to give the state a major role in running the city's troubled educational system.

The proposal by lawmakers ironing out final details of Maryland's budget was designed to put pressure on Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to cede to the state some control of the city schools.

Language freezing the $24 million was expected to be part of the final $14.6 billion budget being hashed out late last night by a committee of three senators and three delegates. The conference committee's recommendation will have to be ratified by the House of Delegates and state Senate, but that approval is considered a formality and could come today.

Under the legislative proposal, Baltimore and the American Civil Liberties Union would be expected to drop their lawsuits against the state seeking more school aid.

"The purpose of this language really is to try to get these lawsuits settled," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee.

The city and the ACLU have filed separate suits seeking to win more state aid for Baltimore's schools, which this year will get about $420 million. City and state officials have negotiated off and on for months to settle the suits with proposals to increase funding, but coupled with substantially more state control.

It is not clear just what role the state would play in running the schools.

Implicit in the legislators' proposal is the assumption that Baltimore schools ultimately will receive not only the $24 million, but significantly more in state aid in future years if a power-sharing arrangement is enacted.

"It is certainly expected that there will be more money from the state," Ms. Hoffman said.

Mr. Schmoke said yesterday that he intends to pursue a "partnership" with the state, but finds the budget restriction "unhelpful" in negotiations. He said the budget does not contain nearly enough money to address the school system's problems.

Mr. Schmoke said he remained optimistic that an agreement over school management could be reached within the year, however.

Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the Maryland chapter of the ACLU, said his group would not put its lawsuit against the state on hold simply to release $24 million in next year's budget. The suit seeks a major increase in state funding for city schools each year.

"I don't take this proposal seriously," Mr. Comstock-Gay said. "They can say whatever they want in there. We will not sign a consent decree based on that. They could certainly request it, but the request would not be binding on a private party."

The legislative proposal would freeze $12 million in previously scheduled school aid for next year, as well as an additional $12 million proposed last week by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to help three dozen city schools that are failing to meet state standards.

The budget conference committee was close last night to resolving its differences on state spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1. One issue was whether to agree with the governor's request to add $7 million for school construction, nearly all of it going to Montgomery County. The money is seen as a political reward for five delegates from that suburban Washington jurisdiction who voted for the $200 million Baltimore Ravens stadium.

The conference committee agreed on these funding levels:

$2 million to begin a state takeover of the Baltimore Circuit Court, and an additional $275,000 to help pay for two new city Circuit Court judges next fall. The judges are expected to help with a backlog of asbestos-related cases. The appropriation depends on the legislature approving a bill creating two judgeships this year and two more next year.

$2 million for public libraries in Prince George's County, an item that was cut from the budget by a Senate committee three weeks ago when lawmakers viewed County Executive Wayne K. Curry as uncooperative in the push to accommodate a new football stadium in Landover for the Washington Redskins.

Pub Date: 4/02/96

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