School funding issues raised Some in Montgomery hope Baltimore suit doesn't hurt counties

$254 million settlement

State says money for city already is in general budget

December 01, 1996|By Lisa Respers and Kate Shatzkin | Lisa Respers and Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Some Montgomery County legislators are questioning the proposed out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit filed by Baltimore against the state of Maryland because they fear the deal could cause the county's school system to suffer.

The tentative agreement, which would settle three lawsuits and funnel $254 million into the city school system over five years, needs the approval of the Maryland General Assembly. But it has left some Montgomery legislators wondering how the state plans to pay for the deal and whether it would adversely affect other Maryland public school systems.

State Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the settlement is "certainly going to cause political problems in Montgomery County."

"It's going to be difficult to vote for just because of the political fiscal landscape," Frosh said. "By that, I mean in terms of fiscal stuff. I certainly support state support for education, but this is going to be a real tough one."

Some officials said they were eager to learn more about the settlement and what effect it might have on other systems before they decided whether to support or oppose the plan.

Del. Nancy K. Kopp, a Democrat from Montgomery County's 16th District, said yesterday, "One of the major questions we have is, where is the money going to come from? Our school system is in need, too, and we couldn't stand to have money taken away."

State officials say the funding has already been factored into an existing budget and will come from the general fund -- not from money earmarked for other jurisdictions.

"When the governor first made this commitment in July, it was at that point I put these budget numbers into the forecast," said Fred Puddester, secretary of the Maryland Department of Budget and Management. "Those numbers have always been accommodated for."

Because some areas of Montgomery County are growing so fast, some of its schools are overcrowded and others need repairs. Puddester said Gov. Parris N. Glendening has been sensitive to Montgomery's needs. He said that Glendening took the "extraordinary step" of allocating $36 million in capital funds for Montgomery last year, more than double what any other county received.

Frosh, Kapp and several other Montgomery County politicians said the county is not quite the well-heeled enclave it used to be; it has more children whose first language is not English than anywhere else in Maryland, and its school population is growing.

"We've got lots of poor people. We've got lots of people who need help," Frosh said. "While we have unmet needs in Montgomery County, and while we get back fewer dollars per capita than any other jurisdiction, it makes it harder and harder to answer the questions of our constituents."

Sen. Ida G. Ruben, a Montgomery County Democrat and a member of the Senate Committee on Budget and Taxation, said, "There are those of us who will feel it will be coming out of our hides."

During the 1994-1995 school year, Montgomery funded 78.8 percent of its school budget from county revenue, getting 19.1 percent from the state. That same year, Baltimore relied more heavily on state aid than any other Maryland school district, with 60.6 percent of its school budget coming from state funds.

Baltimore Del. Howard P. Rawlings said he sees no reason for officials to object to the settlement and pointed out that Montgomery County got "the lion's share" in state school construction money last year, after five of its legislators agreed to support a funding plan for Baltimore's new football stadium for the Ravens.

"Sometimes I get the impression Montgomery County wishes they could secede from the state of Maryland," said Rawlings, an architect of the settlement and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "The proposal the parties negotiated is a very modest proposal, and that is why I don't understand [Montgomery legislators'] alleged behavior to undermine the settlement.

"When they have needs, they expect people to be supportive of them," Rawlings said. "I don't think the legislature will act in a punitive way to prevent the enactment of the settlement. What will happen is, this whole case'll go back to court, and two judges [Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan and U.S. District Judge Marvin J, Garbis, who pushed for the city-state settlement] will be much more sympathetic to the mayor and the city's contention that they need $253 million annually."

Del. Peter Franchot, a Democrat from Montgomery's 20th District, said he believes that officials will support the settlement once they are assured that the county's interests will be protected.

"The old rivalry between Baltimore City and Montgomery County will not be played out over the school suit, despite the static being heard now," Franchot said.

Pub Date: 12/01/96

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