House committees OK management changes for Baltimore schools But vote is postponed on aid for city, rest of state

March 22, 1997|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

In a joint committee vote, two key House panels approved yesterday the management reforms of the $254 million Baltimore schools aid-for-accountability deal, but put off until Tuesday voting on that money and an aid package for the rest of the state.

Postponing the vote on the money sets up a showdown between supporters of the city schools deal -- including House leadership -- and legislators from the suburban counties who want $44.1 million in new school aid in exchange for supporting the bill.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's budget secretary, Frederick W. Puddester, found himself lining up with House leaders yesterday in telling the joint committees that the $44.1 million could not be accommodated in the budget.

He said the governor was prepared to send to the legislature a supplemental budget that would give the counties an additional $40 million, including $34.4 million in new school aid, but nothing more.

"To go beyond this amount, you go beyond fiscal prudence," Puddester said. "I don't see any more money floating around out there."

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the Democrat who chairs the Appropriations Committee and principal architect of the schools deal, explained it simply: "The governor says this is it."

And under questioning by Rawlings, Puddester told the delegates that Senate fiscal leaders thought the administration's million package was "too rich."

In addition to the new money in the operating budget, Puddester said, the governor already has promised $83.3 million in new school construction money. -- $38 million to Montgomery County, $25 million to Baltimore County and $20.3 million to Prince George's County.

Nevertheless, supporters of the $44.1 million plan -- developed by executives of the state's six largest counties -- vowed to press for even more money, an effort described by more than one observer yesterday as "a feeding frenzy."

"We think the overwhelming majority of members of the House, of both parties, are prepared to support the county executives' proposal on the school deal," said Del. James C. Rosapepe, the Prince George's County Democrat who is leading the charge for the additional money.

The county executives' plan being pushed by Rosapepe would increase to $70.1 million next year and remain at that level for the next four years that Baltimore receives extra money.

Even in the face of Puddester's comments that this was Glendening's final offer, Rosapepe held out hope that the governor would give the counties more. "I'm optimistic the governor will come on board with an agreement everyone can be comfortable with," he said.

Under the controversial measure pending in the legislature, the state would be given a role in running the city schools in exchange for providing an additional $254 million in state aid over five years.

The legislation resulted from a consent decree settling three lawsuits over school conditions.

Meanwhile yesterday, the joint committees adopted compromise language to resolve a problem created March 15 with a committee amendment -- a proposal Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke called "a deal killer."

That amendment would have required that the proposed management reforms continue beyond the five-year "sunset" period specified in the original bill, while the additional aid would stop in the fifth year.

Pub Date: 3/22/97

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