Sauerbrey hits Glendening's record on education in his home county Republican promises to outspend Democrat on school construction

Campaign 1998

July 15, 1998|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

An article in yesterday's Maryland section omitted the name of one of the Democratic candidates for governor, Lawrence Freeman.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey attacked Gov. Parris N. Glendening's record on education yesterday -- the first shot in what's likely to be a long, difficult battle to wrest that issue away from a governor who has spent record amounts building schools.

Standing amid temporary classrooms at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Sauerbrey accused Glendening of neglecting his duty -- both as governor and, before that as Prince George's County executive -- to build enough schools.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"These 21 temporary classrooms are truly a disgrace," she said in the same press conference in which she endorsed Michael Steele, the county's GOP chairman, for comptroller. "This, folks, is Parris Glendening's legacy to Prince George's County."

She promised more state school construction money throughout Maryland and an end to temporary classrooms in Prince George's, which has 420 of them, the most in the state. Overall, Maryland has nearly 1,800 temporary classrooms, including dozens in top school systems such as Howard and Montgomery counties.

Sauerbrey named no new funding source, no construction price tag, no schedule for completing these goals. Glendening partisans quickly noted that he has spent as much on school construction in four years as his predecessor, William Donald Schaefer, spent in eight.

"Apparently," said state Democratic Party Chairman Peter B. Krauser, "she has the same contempt for the truth as she does for public education."

Yesterday's sharp exchange highlights the central role education issues -- class size, school building, reading instruction -- are likely to have in the election. Polls nationwide consistently rate education as a top issue.

"It's not usually what you associate Republicans with," says Columbia pollster Brad Coker, "but if it's on voters' minds, you have to talk about it."

Downplaying vouchers

For her part, Sauerbrey is talking less about school vouchers, which help schoolchildren go to private schools, instead focusing on improving the state's public schools. She used to say more about vouchers, but that allowed opponents to paint Sauerbrey as an enemy of public schools.

"My role as governor, first and foremost, is to make every public school so good that parents want to send their children to them," Sauerbrey said yesterday.

She promised to spend even more than Glendening on building schools -- and deliver a 14 percent tax cut as well. The trick, she said, would be to cut wasteful projects so that as much money as possible can be devoted to schools.

In Glendening's four years as governor, the state has dedicated $634 million to school construction aid for local jurisdictions. That's more than the $625 million approved in eight years under Schaefer, without allowing for inflation.

Prince George's schools

Prince George's County is in the first year of a four-year package in which it will receive $140 million in state school construction aid -- enough to begin a major school construction and renovation program.

But before 1997, including the years Glendening was Prince George's County executive, school construction stagnated, falling far behind other fast-growing counties in the region.

From July 1, 1990, to now, Prince George's -- the state's largest school system -- received $109 million in state construction aid. Montgomery County, its neighbor to the north, received more than twice as much, $229 million, despite growth rates only a little higher.

Sauerbrey blames the discrepancy on Glendening's deal-making to win approval for a new, taxpayer-financed football stadium in Baltimore.

"Wouldn't it have been great if the $200 million that was used to build the Ravens Stadium was used for school construction in Prince George's County?" she said.

The Prince George's picture is complicated, because the county has a strict tax cap and has set aside relatively little local money for school construction until recently.

In addition, a federal lawsuit -- which required busing as the remedy for segregation -- made school construction in Prince George's difficult.

"Those are two structural barriers that Prince George's County has had to deal with," said Glendening campaign spokesman Len Foxwell.

'An important issue'

Yesterday's back-and-forth statements between two leading candidates of opposite parties made it seem the general election was weeks, not months, away.

Sauerbrey faces a Republican primary challenger in Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker. Glendening faces two Democratic challengers, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and Davidsonville physician Dr. Terry McGuire.

The winners of the Sept. 15 primary elections will face each other in the Nov. 3 general election. The talk about education is only expected to get louder.

"You know it's an important issue," said state Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Howard County Republican, "when both candidates are trying to grab it."

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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