School aid bill passed by Senate 33-13 vote sends Baltimore measure through to House

'Children are suffering'

Action postponed on issue of additional funds for other areas

March 29, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron and Ivan Penn | Thomas W. Waldron and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Legislation to reform the management of the Baltimore school system and provide $254 million in new state aid -- a measure once considered too controversial to pass -- won overwhelming approval in the Maryland Senate yesterday.

The Senate voted 33-13 to pass the bill, which would take day-to-day control of the beleaguered city system away from the mayor and give it to a new school board appointed by the mayor and governor. Most of the no votes were cast by senators from Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The measure now goes to the House of Delegates, where leaders have said the votes are in place to pass it. But House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, has postponed committee action while waiting to see the governor's supplemental budget -- which the governor has declined to submit.

Supporters of the proposal remained optimistic that the measure would win final approval before the General Assembly adjourns April 7.

In the Senate yesterday, Baltimore Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Democrat, said a major effort to improve the school system was long overdue.

"Baltimore City once had the best school system in the state," said Hoffman, a leading supporter of the bill. "Right now the city's school system is sick and the children are suffering."

The legislation would implement the terms of a court decree signed in November settling three lawsuits challenging conditions in the Baltimore school system. The bill is backed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Legislators from around the state were not enthusiastic about the measure as the session opened in January, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat, predicted bluntly that the bill would fail.

In recent weeks, lawmakers from other parts of the state withheld their support in hopes of winning more school aid for their areas, too.

But their effort in the Senate fizzled under pressure from Miller, who called the aid requests excessive.

In the end, Miller, Hoffman and others opted to push for an "up or down" vote on the Baltimore bill, leaving the question of additional spending for other areas to be answered later, in consultation with the governor.

Several senators remained opposed to the bill.

Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat, said he could not support the measure without securing more aid for his home county and other areas with educational needs.

"I very much hope before the whole session is over that I will be able to support this bill," Van Hollen said. "We're trying to find extra support for all needy children in the state."

Added Prince George's County Democrat Sen. Ulysses Currie: "We have families in poverty all over this state."

Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat, was the only senator who did not vote. Young, who has opposed parts of the bill, sat quietly at his desk on the Senate floor during the voting. Asked about his silence, he said simply that he did not intend to vote on the measure.

The Senate bill calls for the management reforms to end, or "sunset," when the aid runs out in five years, a point very important to city officials. House leaders have proposed different language, however, and the matter is likely to be resolved in a conference committee.

Pub Date: 3/29/97

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