Time is running out on Gary school plan But chance remains that education agenda could pass legislature

April 03, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

County Executive John G. Gary's once-promising campaign for control over Anne Arundel's school board could be lost in the General Assembly's final push to wrap up a full slate of state business.

Two key components of Mr. Gary's education-reform agenda await committee action with just five working days left in the session.

"If nothing else, this was something that enlivened the debate," said Lisa Ritter, Mr. Gary's spokeswoman, who said she does not know if the legislation will be voted on. "It has brought this issue to the forefront, not only in Anne Arundel, but it is now something other jurisdictions are watching closely."

Del. John R. Leopold, a Pasadena Republican who has sponsored education bills on Mr. Gary's behalf, still believes the measures could clear the remaining hurdles and become law.

"This is the first time in my memory that we've been this close," Mr. Leopold said. "There's plenty of time. If the will is there -- and the votes -- then there will be action."

The county's Republican administration has spent enormous political capital this session pushing the bills, which would give Mr. Gary more influence over Anne Arundel's $417 million education budget. The Board of Education -- and its vocal parent-teacher constituencies -- have viewed the executive's words and tactics as a grab for power.

But now the conflict may sputter out with the end of the session.

"Every day that goes by jeopardizes this legislation," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a Brooklyn Park Democrat.

A bill that would require the Board of Education to submit semiannual financial reports to the County Council and the county executive -- if requested by both parties in writing -- is pending before the House Ways and Means Committee. Another measure that would make the reports mandatory sits before the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee. Neither bill has been scheduled for a vote.

A Ways and Means Committee staff member said a vote could come Friday, adding: "If not, we're in big trouble." If approved, the bill would then move to the House floor for consideration.

The second measure, which the county's Republican administration has made a political cause celebre, would make Mr. Gary the state's only county executive with the power to appoint school board members. The Senate approved that bill, but the House passed a measure keeping the appointment power with the governor.

Now the county's five-member Senate delegation must decide whether to substitute its version of the bill -- which would grant Mr. Gary new powers -- for the House measure. If not, a conference committee comprising three House and three Senate members would be convened to reconcile the substantial differences between the two bills. That could take time.

Sen. John A. Cade, the Severna Park Republican who chairs the delegation, has not been able to arrange a meeting because of busy Senate schedules. Senators are fulfilling heavy committee obligations as bills stack up for last-minute consideration. Mr. Cade's staff said he is determined to bring the measure before the delegation.

But some legislators, who believe a conference committee would be packed with Mr. Gary's allies, wouldn't mind if he didn't.

"If they don't vote on it, I don't care," said Mr. Jimeno, who cast the sole "no" vote when the Gary-appointment bill passed the Senate this month.

Either version of the bill would for the first time require the governor or county executive to pick from a list of school board candidates selected during a nominating convention. As it stands, the governor has the power to disregard the convention's slate in favor of his own -- and he often does.

Whether or not legislators decide who will have final appointment authority, some delegates will settle for any bill "codifying" the convention's nominating powers.

"That's my major goal," Mr. Leopold said. "I would like to see that happen."

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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