Schmoke seeks legal gambling Under mayor's plan, part of the profits would go to schools

'Option of last resort'

Glendening to get details today at Annapolis meeting

July 26, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. and Jean Thompson | William F. Zorzi Jr. and Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke plans to propose a long-shot scheme to Gov. Parris N. Glendening today that would legalize gambling in Baltimore and use some of the profits from private gaming ventures to pay for the city's troubled public schools.

Schmoke confirmed yesterday that he will present the plan at a meeting in Annapolis with Glendening -- days before the governor's deadline for resolving a long-simmering dispute over funding and a city-state partnership for running the schools.

"It is only one of several proposals," Schmoke said, adding that he has other suggestions for Glendening about a proposed restructuring of city school system management.

Last night at a community meeting with some 150 parents and teachers, Schmoke outlined his gaming proposal, calling it an "option of last resort" needed to wrest additional funds for the local schools. The crowd seemed stunned but noncommittal to the idea.

"If it came down to a choice of no new money or gaming money, I would take gaming money," Schmoke said in an interview.

In recent weeks, Schmoke has privately lobbied state legislators for support of a plan to bring slot machines to Baltimore as salvation for city schools. He wants to dedicate a portion of revenue earned from gambling businesses to bolster the city's educational system and a school budget he regards as insufficient.

There are huge political and legal obstacles to making such a plan viable -- not the least of which is Glendening, who has repeatedly opposed the expansion of casino-type gambling in the state.

The governor acknowledged yesterday that he is aware of the mayor's interest in tying legalized gambling to school funding, but made it clear he remains opposed to the expansion of gaming in the state.

"I think we ought to solve the city's education management problems and funding issues by themselves, not mixed up with issues of casino gambling and slots," Glendening said.

He called "remote" the chances that the Maryland General Assembly would legalize slot machines in the 1997 legislative session, including plans for them at state race tracks and off-track betting parlors. In part, the effort to install slots is to offset the effect of those now operating at Delaware racetracks.

The governor has said he would oppose efforts to legalize slot machines at Maryland racetracks unless he sees conclusive proof that they are being hurt by the Delaware tracks. If slots were approved, he said, "it should be because of the needs of thoroughbred racing -- not a budget crunch."

The proposal also has generated interest -- and criticism -- among other elected officials.

"This is bizarre," said Sen. John A. Pica Jr of Baltimore. "I think we've reached a pretty sad state when you've got to support casinos to fund education."

Currently, the city is suing the state in state court to try to obtain an increase in aid for its school system. That trial is scheduled to begin in November.

In May, Glendening set a deadline of Sunday for the city to agree to greater state involvement in the schools. He set the deadline when he vetoed legislation that would have redirected from administrators to the classroom $5.9 million in state aid to city schools.

The veto gave Schmoke, a political ally, some maneuvering room while the deadline appeased legislators, who are concerned about the management of the schools.

Unless Schmoke meets the deadline, Glendening has threatened to withhold another $6 million in 1997 aid.

So far, Schmoke has not seemed concerned about Glendening's deadline. "That's his deadline," he said recently.

But yesterday, sources close to the negotiations suggested that the governor's deadline may not be firm. Some said they would be satisfied if by Sunday the parties were making substantial progress toward an agreement.

Glendening -- as a way of resolving what could prove to be an expensive legal fight -- has pledged to find a total of $140 million in new aid for city schools over four years. Currently, the state supplies about $424 million of the city's $653 million school budget.

Schmoke publicly has spurned that offer as too low.

Schmoke's initiative produced varied reactions yesterday.

Pica said that if gaming were allowed, and if gaming revenue were dedicated to education -- neither is a certainty -- schools would not necessarily get better.

"Until we have people who believe it is their responsibility to educate children and not just to maintain a bureaucracy, schools won't improve. We need the mayor to look the superintendent in the eye and say 'get this job done.' We don't need gaming," he said.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said yesterday she is weighing the mayor's suggestion, but "I won't support it if it is used to supplant state aid to schools.

"If the governor's already agreed to a certain level of funding, it has to be an addition to that -- it can't be seen as a substitute for that," the Baltimore Democrat said. "I would hate to see the whole debate about education quality get lost in a debate about gaming."

During a series of meetings with local and state legislators, business leaders and parent groups, Schmoke has honed his arguments for improving the city's schools.

First, his school system management must be improved, Schmoke said, departing from his usual stance of defending the administration.

Second, he'll ask that all proposed improvements be linked to student achievement goals -- he wants to fight the public perception that politics, not children, are driving the reform debate.

Finally, he said, he cannot rely on taxes as the source of the millions of dollars he believes are needed adequately support and improve schools.

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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