Legislators attach strings to more city school funds Schmoke, Amprey critical of panel's bid for changes

April 03, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

To Baltimore school administrators, the budget news from Annapolis yesterday was bittersweet: New millions are pledged in state aid for next year, but they are held up by lawmakers intent on changing the management of city schools.

As a result, school officials predict, Baltimore can expect to start the next academic year in the red -- after spending this year in a budget crisis that led to layoffs at headquarters and spending cuts in schools.

"They're talking about holding back money that we need to make the kind of improvements that they want us to make -- and that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me," said school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey.

The legislators' action blocks $24 million of the $433 million in state aid appropriated for city schools in the 1997 budget. City schools received $420 million in state aid last year, an appropriation that forms the lion's share of their $649 million budget.

To obtain the withheld millions next year, lawmakers decided yesterday, Baltimore must participate in specific reforms tied mostly to proposed changes in Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's administration:

$12 million in general aid and $10 million earmarked for improving troubled schools will be released only when Mr. Schmoke agrees to create a proposed "partnership" giving the state a greater role in running city schools.

He also must put aside the lawsuit Baltimore filed to wrest increased school aid from Maryland and work toward settlement.

$2 million pledged by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to improve teacher salaries will be paid only when the school system puts in place a new merit-based teacher evaluation system -- "as approved by the partnership" and the state school board.

These contingencies, approved yesterday by a committee of three senators and three delegates, will have to be ratified by the House of Delegates and Senate. Their approval is considered a formality.

The General Assembly's proposal would create a "one-sided burden for the city," said Mr. Schmoke, who tried to persuade lawmakers to modify it.

"Holding back money is not the best way to bring about change," he said yesterday. "The method being chosen by the General Assembly is not the most productive."

Dr. Amprey said: "It's hard to plan for fiscal '97 when you're trying to understand what the budget ultimately will be. It's having an effect on our day-to-day operations."

The city is in its budget-planning season now, and the uncertainty about the future complicates school budgeting efforts.

Dr. Amprey cites as an example the effect of lawmakers' actions on this school year's budget: The legislature withheld $5.9 million this school year to force Dr. Amprey to make several improvements, but pledged recently to return the money as part of the negotiations toward restructuring school management.

This year's budget remains underfunded by $3 million, Dr. Amprey said. Under the school system's plans, the budget would be balanced if the $5.9 million is returned -- just in time to start another year with less available from the state than the school system began with last year.

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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