Rawlings proposes school aid for P.G. Committee chairman links $317 million to 'accountability'

October 14, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee proposed what he called a five-year, $317 million education aid package for Prince George's County yesterday, but coupled it with a demand for "accountability" such as the state imposed on Baltimore schools earlier this year.

A leading Prince George's legislator described the proposal as "gratuitously divisive and inflammatory" and said the actual new spending in the package comes to about $90 million.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, raised the politically charged issue in a letter dated yesterday to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

In August, the governor had floated the notion of a generous financing plan to offset Prince George's anticipated costs of ending a quarter century of federal court-ordered school busing.

At the time, administration sources estimated the cost of the package at $250 million, though the governor has backed away from that figure.

Rawlings told the governor his original suggestion would face strong opposition in the General Assembly.

"I and many of my colleagues do not think that ending the busing of 11,000 students should cost $250 million," Rawlings wrote. But the chairman added that Prince George's faces "unique circumstances which call for a unique proposal."

Rawlings noted the suburban Washington county's performance on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) test -- its school system's scores are lower than any xTC jurisdiction other than Baltimore. He also pointed to the 12.8 percent of Prince George's public school teachers who lack full certification -- the state's highest percentage.

During a tour of Prince George's schools last year, appropriations committee members were "horrified" to find students crowded into temporary classrooms that were leaking in the rain.

In his letter, the Appropriations Committee chairman proposed to address the county's problems by increasing spending on school construction aid, grants for school improvement plans and teacher certification efforts. He also called for an increase in grants based on the proportion of impoverished children in the school system -- a category in which Prince George's ranks second to Baltimore.

Rawlings said the poverty grant should be addressed "in the context of a statewide funding approach" -- adopting a position Prince George's delegates took this spring in opposing a $254 million school aid package for Baltimore.

But to receive the aid in Rawlings' package, Prince George's would have to agree to a checklist of accountability measures, including the replacement of its elected school board by one appointed by the county executive and the governor. A similar board was imposed on Baltimore.

In addition, Rawlings wrote, Prince George's would have to remove the County Charter amendment known as Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders -- a voter-approved initiative that limits increases in local property taxes. Many state legislators have long resented TRIM, contending it leads Prince George's to seek additional state aid while undertaxing its residents.

Del. James C. Rosapepe, the Prince George's Democrat who led the Washington suburban fight against the Baltimore aid package, called the school board and TRIM proposals "poison pills."

Rosapepe welcomed Rawlings' support for a statewide approach to poverty grants and his recognition that Prince George's has unique problems. But he said that all but about $90 million of the money in the $317 million package is a continuation of existing spending.

"It's clearly the opening bid in a bargaining process -- and that's good -- but it's one that's gratuitously divisive and inflammatory," said Rosapepe. He denied that Prince George's residents are undertaxed, contending that they actually shoulder more than their share of total taxation.

Rawlings maintained that his accountability proposal has nothing to do with the Prince George's House delegation's unanimous opposition to the Baltimore aid plan.

"My value system would not allow me to ignore the fact that they have a substantial problem in the education of Prince George's County children, and if you're concerned about children, you shouldn't let regional politics interfere," Rawlings said.

Pub Date: 10/14/97

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