School deal faces hurdle Panel's OK includes amendment that might invite city rejection

'It creates big problems'

Reforms would extend beyond 5 years original bill specified

March 16, 1997|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

A joint House panel gave preliminary approval to Baltimore's aid-for-accountability schools deal yesterday, but not before including a possible killer amendment as the legislation finally began to move through the General Assembly.

A section of the bill was changed to make it difficult -- if not impossible -- for city officials to accept it and could send the schools issue back into court.

The panel, made up of members of the Ways and Means and Appropriations committees, spent hours going over the details of the deal, which would give the state a role in running the city schools in exchange for providing an additional $254 million in aid over five years.

The controversial legislation, which has been the subject of weeks of review and revision, resulted from a consent decree settling three lawsuits filed over conditions in city schools.

After a complicated series of votes yesterday, the panel agreed to require that proposed management reforms continue beyond the five-year "sunset" period specified in the original bill. The additional aid would stop in the fifth year.

The change in the fine print was made with little discussion of the implications, but Del. Nancy K. Kopp, a Montgomery County Democrat who chaired the session, said she was sure that the issue "would be revisited" as consideration of the bill continued.

"We're very much opposed to removing the sunset," said Henry W. Bogdan, a lobbyist for the city and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is giving up almost all control of the schools as part of the deal.

"Our view was that the legislation and the consent decree were all the result of a settlement negotiation process, and in our view going along with these management changes was the quid pro quo for the funding arrangement," Bogdan said.

It is unacceptable to city officials, particularly Schmoke, to have one without the other, he said.

"We've known there are people concerned with the sunset provision, but it is not our intent or desire that all the management changes go away at the end of five years," Bogdan said.

Del. James C. Rosapepe, a Prince George's County Democrat who is vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, saw the amendment as trouble.

"I think it creates big problems for making this legislation go forward because it upsets the essential compromise between the state and city," Rosapepe said.

Abbey G. Hairston, the city's lead attorney in the school settlement, said she was hopeful that the matter would be resolved.

L "There are a lot of steps left in the process," Bogdan said.

This week, work groups will present the heavily amended bill to their committees.

The bill is not expected to be voted on and sent to the full House of Delegates until the question of funding the city deal and paying for other possible school aid is resolved.

Union issues resolved

Also yesterday, all but one of the remaining issues over the handling of school workers under the new city school board were resolved to the satisfaction of unions representing city teachers and other workers.

Concerns over union protections and benefits, including the handling of sick leave, health benefits and seniority, had been raised by workers.

The last change union attorneys are seeking would keep nonteaching employees within the city's civil service system until June 30, 1999, a year longer than is called for in the bill.

Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes dealing continued over the best way to muster support among legislators for the schools deal. One plan for sweetening the deal for other jurisdictions surfaced late Friday.

Executives from the state's six most-populous counties -- Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's -- agreed on a plan that would pump an additional $44.1 million into school systems around the state, officials familiar with the plan said.

Cost of support

The additional money -- which would have to be included in a supplemental budget that Gov. Parris N. Glendening would send to the legislature if he agreed with the plan -- is essentially the cost for other jurisdictions' support of the city deal.

Glendening is bargaining with lawmakers not just for their votes on the schools deal, but also on three of his initiatives that are in trouble in the legislature: a doubling of the state's 36-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes, the Hope scholarship program and the Smart Growth plan for controlling development and limiting sprawl.

House and Senate leaders and Glendening administration officials are considering the county executives' proposal, a considerably scaled-back version of proposals floated earlier in the legislative session that would have increased school aid to jurisdictions other than Baltimore by as much as $122 million a year.

House leaders indicated yesterday, however, that the $44.1 million was still too much to be accommodated in the budget.

Pub Date: 3/16/97

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