Balto. Co. executive seeks more for schools State funds would go to construction budget

December 23, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger is lobbying hard to get the county a two-thirdsincrease in state school construction money next year -- a vital part of his plan to eliminate chronic classroom crowding.

In a series of recent meetings with Gov. Parris N. Glendening and top administration officials, Ruppersberger says the county

needs and deserves the extra money.

Glendening has made no commitments, according to his spokesman, Raymond C. Feldmann. "He'll do his best to provide what he can, but it's too early in the budget process," Feldmann says.

But officials of both parties say Ruppersberger is in a good political position, with a unified county delegation and members in key leadership posts poised to help -- or hurt -- Glendening's controversial proposals in the General Assembly session that starts next month.

Ruppersberger says the school construction money -- $25 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1, up from $14.7 million received this fiscal year -- is vital if the county is to avert a projected crisis in high schools caused by a flood of new students.

A large building program also could help cut pressure for a new county law regulating home construction around crowded schools, which the county executive says will hurt economic development.

But persuading the governor is a tall order. The county received just $9.4 million in the fiscal year that ended in June 1995, and hasn't received more than $20 million from the state in any year since 1975.

Despite that, Ruppersberger and county legislators from both parties say his chances are good.

"We can show the clear need." Ruppersberger says.

If the county took no action, high schools would have 4,400 more students than seats by 2005, projections show. Over the next two years, the county will spend record amounts of its bond money, plus $14 million from the operating budget, to prevent that.

Old buildings targeted

Many of the funding requests are for older schools, such as $2.3 million to renovate Kenwood High School in Essex, and $3.3 million each to speed construction of additions to Parkville High near Parkville and Franklin High in Reisterstown.

"The voters are behind this," Ruppersberger says of the push for school construction projects. He notes that the record $89.6 million county school bond issue received a higher level of

support than any other issue on last month's election ballot.

County officials and legislators say that sentiment won't be lost on Glendening -- especially with bruising General Assembly legislative battles expected and a tough re-election campaign looming for the governor in 1998.

Gubernatorial initiatives this session include a deal to pump $254 million into Baltimore City schools over five years, a proposal to increase the tobacco tax and a plan to limit suburban sprawl.

"It's almost like the old days -- you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours," says Del. John S. Arnick, a veteran Democrat from Dundalk.

The governor is "going to need support," says state Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, a Towson Republican and the new Senate minority leader, "and we've got a lot of people in leadership positions."

Lawmakers say the county has supported the governor -- particularly on last year's fight over money to build two professional football stadiums. But the county got less school construction money last year than did Montgomery County, where the delegation largely opposed the stadiums.

'We've got unanimity'

And Ruppersberger's political prestige is high. He is completing a year as president of the Maryland Association of Counties, and has been able to unite county legislators, including those who represent parts of the city and county, into an effective voting block.

"We've got unanimity," says state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Ruppersberger is quick to note that he hasn't publicly criticized Glendening and has praised him for what he's done to help the county. Announcing publicly two weeks ago that he isn't angling for the governor's job hasn't hurt, either, his supporters say.

In addition, Glendening needs wider voter support if he's to win re-election in 1998. "Anything you do with schools helps you with somebody," Arnick says.

And Baltimore County delegates can be forgiving if the right incentive is there.

Del. Joseph J. Minnick, another Dundalk Democrat and chairman of the county's House delegation, says voters' complaints about Glendening's campaign fund-raising gaffes haven't affected the delegates' willingness to cooperate.

"I tell people those are his [Glendening's] personal problems. It's not my business as a delegate," Minnick says.

Pub Date: 12/23/96

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