Coalition calls for a boycott of Md. lottery Parents group urges 1-day action to protest city schools settlement

'Black Wednesday'

Organizers say portion of revenues should be diverted for education

November 17, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Dissatisfied with last week's proposed settlement addressing funding and management of Baltimore public schools, a city parents group called yesterday for a boycott of the Maryland Lottery on Nov. 27 to protest the agreement reached by state and city officials.

Organizers of the Save Our Children Coalition argue that a portion of the revenues from the state lottery should go toward education funding and are asking all Baltimore residents not to buy lottery tickets on the day they have designated as "Black Wednesday."

"We want to send a message to state officials and legislators in Annapolis that if you're going to withhold money from the schools, we're going to withhold money from the state," said Clarice Herbert, a teacher at Frederick Douglass High and a co-chair of the Save Our Children Coalition. The group's membership of about 100 includes parents of city schoolchildren, teachers, the clergy and neighborhood representatives.

"We think it's time to exercise our economic empowerment, and guess one way to do that is to hit them in their pockets. It seems to be the only thing they understand," said Save Our Children Coalition co-chair Michael Hamilton, who announced the group's planned boycott yesterday at Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue before about 25 people, including several city schoolchildren.

Lottery director Buddy Roogow said yesterday that "the lottery's function is to provide additional revenues for the state to direct toward its programs. I would hate to see the lottery used in a political context like this."

Maryland law requires that lottery revenues go directly into the general fund, Roogow said. The only way to divert some of that money would be to introduce legislation earmarking the revenues for specific purposes.

Last week's proposed agreement, reached after weeks of negotiations -- calls for the city to receive $254 million in new state aid over the next five years and gives the state more power in running Baltimore public schools.

"It's pathetic. It means an addition of $500 per year, per child," said Lillie Covert-Freeman, president of Baltimore's Friends of Education, which has lobbied for more school funding.

Coalition members said they chose to boycott the Maryland Lottery because Baltimore is one of the top areas for lottery sales statewide. Receipts from Baltimore City accounted for an estimated $200 million of the $1.1 billion in overall sales last fiscal year, they said.

"We're trying to make a statement," Herbert said. "I don't think one day's going to hurt the lottery. It's symbolic."

The lottery, which has seen its sales drop by almost 9 percent since July 1, returned $392 million to state coffers and $612 million to players in the form of prizes in fiscal 1996. Lottery revenues go toward the general fund and state officials are counting on this year's revenues to balance the budget and help pay for the construction of a football stadium in Baltimore.

Estimated lottery sales in Baltimore average about $3 million a week, with daily sales of about $425,000, a lottery official said.

"There is an economic power base here," Hamilton said. "We hope to show how much the city of Baltimore does contribute to the economy of the state."

Last week's tentative agreement over performance of Baltimore public schools settled three combined lawsuits. The suits, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the city against the state, maintained that city schools were underfunded and that the state has an obligation to help.

Under the terms of the settlement, Baltimore would receive an extra $30 million next year and $50 million a year for the next four years from the state, plus an added $24 million for repairs.

Coalition members said that the extra funding is inadequate and that a minimum of $100 million in additional funding each year is needed to make a difference in the city schools.

"Legislators are saying they can't find the money for Baltimore City schools, but the lottery money is there and it's being used for projects like the stadium," Herbert said.

Hamilton said yesterday that the group plans to sponsor more boycotts and rallies to spread its message. "We'll continue until we achieve equity in funding with our suburban counterparts," he said.

Pub Date: 11/17/96

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