Grasmick opposes aid plan for P.G. Says funds must go where needed, not where governor wants

October 09, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Maryland school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, an influential voice on education issues in Annapolis, is opposing Gov. Parris N. Glendening's call for a special state aid boost for Prince George's County schools, saying that new funds must go where needed throughout the state.

In a recent letter to key legislators, Grasmick did not rule out more aid for Prince George's but said lawmakers must weigh such assistance as part of a statewide formula based on factors such as the number of "at-risk" children in poverty.

"Any consideration of the needs of the at-risk students in Prince George's County must be viewed within this statewide perspective," Grasmick wrote.

In the past three months, Glendening has been pushing a significant aid package for Prince George's -- something comparable in size to the $254 million, five-year aid increase he helped win for the Baltimore school system this year.

But Glendening's proposal has run into opposition from key legislators and others who say it is motivated more by Glendening's desire to shore up his political base in his home county of Prince George's than by objective educational needs.

Glendening is now contemplating a package of aid heavily weighted with one-time construction funds -- money over which the governor has great control -- rather than ongoing operating assistance such as Baltimore received, a spokesman said yesterday.

Deputy Press Secretary Ray Feldmann added that the governor believes Grasmick's views are "absolutely consistent" with his.

While Glendening supports new operating budget funds for Prince George's, he understands that an increase there would have to be considered along with the needs of school systems across the state, Feldmann said.

"A big chunk of this money he's talking about will be on the [construction] side," Feldmann said. "There may be some operating money increases, but that will be viewed in the context of statewide funding."

The governor has floated a figure of $40 million in school construction money for Prince George's -- almost a third of the total state allocation for next year, according to sources.

Glendening has said the state needs to spend more money in Prince George's to help the county end about 25 years of federal court-ordered busing designed to desegregate the system.

In her letter, Grasmick made clear that she does not support that contention, saying she agrees with a panel of experts who concluded this summer that most of the goals of the desegregation order have been met.

Grasmick was not available for comment yesterday.

Feldmann said the governor has never maintained that the new state aid is needed to undo the court's supervision of the county's schools. Rather, the governor believes that the state is obliged to help rebuild schools that were neglected during the busing era, Feldmann said.

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Greenbelt is expected to consider lifting the desegregation order during hearings scheduled to begin next month.

Majority black Prince George's is the only Maryland school district under a federal desegregation order, which stems from a discrimination lawsuit filed by eight parents in 1972.

Although a member of Glendening's Cabinet, Grasmick technically works for the State Board of Education, and she has worked to maintain her independence from the governor on certain matters during his three years in office.

She has made clear to him, sources said, that she cannot support a piecemeal approach to school funding across the state.

"What she doesn't want is pork barrel educational policy-making," said one person familiar with Grasmick's conversations with the governor. "She's establishing some ground rules."

Seeking to avoid a repeat of the bitter regional fighting that accompanied General Assembly passage of the education-aid and management reform package for Baltimore, leaders in the House of Delegates have been pushing for a statewide approach for increasing state school aid.

A task force appointed jointly by Glendening and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. is looking at the issue and will recommend changes to lawmakers before the Assembly convenes for its annual 90-day session in January.

Glendening's effort to craft a special aid package for Prince George's has seemed to conflict with the task force's goal, and legislators said they were pleased that Grasmick has made it clear that she supports their efforts.

"I honestly believe that the task force, with the help of the State Board of Education is moving in the right direction," Taylor said yesterday, "both for Prince George's unique problems and for a statewide proposal for equity funding."

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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