Proposal for city school aid detailed Glendening offers to add $140 million over four years

June 20, 1996|By Jean Thompson and Thomas W. Waldron | Jean Thompson and Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Baltimore will receive $140 million in new school aid over four years if city and state officials adopt Gov. Parris N. Glendening's latest proposal to settle legal disputes over school management and finances.

In a letter to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Glendening has proposed annual budget increases earmarked to improve teacher salaries, help low-performing schools and bolster programs targeting poor children. The letter detailed an offer the two had discussed at a private meeting this week.

"Clearly, students living in Baltimore City face unique needs and challenges," Glendening wrote in the letter, obtained yesterday by The Sun. "I recognize that additional funds may be necessary to combat these challenges and will recommend increased funding over the next five years."

To get the money, the city must agree to restructure school management and end the lawsuit it filed in September in an effort to compel Maryland to increase Baltimore's share of school aid. The letter does not specify the school reforms, which would require collaboration between the city and the state.

There are many obstacles to concluding an agreement on funding and management reform. State legislators must find and approve any increase in school aid -- at a time when the state government faces a budgetary shortfall -- and Schmoke and state officials must work out their differences over reforms.

"In all candor, we still have extraordinary steps ahead of us in order to complete this funding strategy," Glendening wrote.

The city now receives about $420 million in state education aid. Under the governor's proposal, the city would receive an additional $20 million in fiscal year 1998, in addition to the increases typically included in the annual state budget.

After 1998, the extra allocation being proposed by Glendening would grow by $10 million a year until it reached $50 million in fiscal 2001.

The General Assembly has allocated -- and frozen -- an extra $12 million in aid for next year.

Glendening made the proposal Tuesday during a private meeting between city and state officials, who have tried unsuccessfully for more than a year to resolve a battle over school funding and control.

Schmoke said yesterday that he will reply in writing after discussing the letter with city attorneys and the school board.

"I can only say of his letter that it differed significantly from what was represented during the course of that meeting," Schmoke said. "But I am committed to giving him a written response, and I will do that by Friday."

Schmoke said Tuesday's discussions focused on the educational needs of poor children and the resources needed to improve their academic performance.

The governor's letter returns to the sensitive topic of reforming management of the city schools. Sources familiar with negotiations said the starting place is an earlier proposal that would create a city-state partnership to guide reform.

At Tuesday's meeting, sources familiar with the negotiations said, several possible financial packages were discussed. It is unclear whether Glendening's offer, which is seen as the first substantive financial offer to come out of months of talks, is a starting place or his highest offer in the continuing negotiations.

The governor's offer to spend more on education would only complicate the state's already tight budget. This year's budget of $14.6 billion is slightly smaller than last year's, and analysts are warning that the state faces a shortfall of about $200 million next year.

The governor and legislative leaders are interested in cutting Maryland's personal income tax rate in the next two years, which would further crimp the budget.

Even so, a key lawmaker said she was confident the state could afford a settlement with the city as long as it was accompanied by an agreement to provide more accountability.

"If you have the partnership structure in place, you could pass xTC the spending]. You have to reorder priorities," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

But Hoffman and other legislative leaders said they are growing frustrated with the city and called for Schmoke to commit himself to making management changes.

A settlement "will only happen if there's going to be a satisfactory partnership agreement reached," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. "And that's what I don't see any evidence of happening yet."

Many legislators are still angry that the city went to court to try to force an increase in state aid.

"The problem is that the overwhelming majority in the General Assembly believe the lawsuit is without basis," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. "Why do you pay money in a suit that has no basis in either fact or law?"

Pub Date: 6/20/96

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