Officials plead for school construction funding

Baltimore, 19 counties seek part of $62 million

January 28, 1999|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

One Carroll County legislator quoted from the Bible. An Eastern Shore delegate fell humbly to one knee, if in jest. Top Republican lawmakers from Howard County figured they helped their cause by simply keeping their mouths shut.

Everybody had his own strategy yesterday as Baltimore and 19 Maryland counties performed the annual ritual of pleading before the Board of Public Works for state construction dollars to build and renovate schools.

Officials of the 20 jurisdictions were vying for their pieces of $62 million in school construction money that the Board of Public Works is expected to divvy up this spring.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has proposed in his budget spending $250 million to build and renovate public schools. Yesterday, Glendening and the other two members of the board -- Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Richard N. Dixon -- approved $188 million in school construction and modernization projects as recommended by administration officials.

To get a slice of the remaining $62 million, officials from around the state have to rely on the beneficence of the board.

Baltimore and the five surrounding counties alone requested $68 million yesterday, and will have to compete with substantial requests from Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Four of Maryland's counties did not request money yesterday.

Politics surfaces

With such money at stake, politics intrudes.

Two counties with a major Republican presence -- Carroll and Howard -- ran into trouble with the Democratic-dominated board.

After Howard Democratic Del. Shane Pendergrass asked the board for $30.5 million, Glendening obliquely scolded the top two House Republican leaders and the Senate Republican leader, all of whom represent the county.

"I also see some of your colleagues in this delegation who have called for the [budget] surplus to be turned into tax reduction," Glendening said, arguing that the surplus is needed to fund school construction.

The Republican leadership chose to bite its lip and not respond. As House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman said, "We kept very quiet, didn't we?"

Quoting the Bible

Carroll Republican Sen. Larry E. Haines invoked the Good Book in making his county's request for $4 million, reading from Proverbs: "Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it."

Glendening was ready with a line from Proverbs as well, and another not-so-subtle jab at the all-Republican Carroll delegation.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish," Glendening said, quoting from memory. "I have this vision of the entire Carroll County delegation coming together in vigorous support of our budget."

Baltimore's request

Baltimore schools had less difficulty. Dixon confidently told them they would get the modest $4.9 million they requested, which would give the city more than $25 million overall in state construction funding. The delegation then quickly walked out smiling, despite hearing less encouraging words from the city's former may- or, Schaefer.

"Schaefer said don't bet on it," said Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks. "But all we need [with Dixon's support] is the governor."

Baltimore County's $17.3 million request would be almost entirely for renovating 19 elementary schools. With $17.8 million already approved, the county would receive more than $35 million for schools if the additional request is granted.

Republicans have complained that Glendening withholds some school construction money until after the General Assembly session so he can extract political favors from legislators and punish those who don't vote for his causes.

They also complain that the annual parade of local officials pleading for these remaining dollars injects emotion and politics into what they believe should be an objective process based on a formula.

Glendening, however, insists that it's wiser to wait until the General Assembly has approved a budget for school construction before committing the rest of the money to the counties.

Requests by jurisdiction

Here are some of the school construction and renovation projects for which Baltimore-area jurisdictions are seeking state money:

Anne Arundel County: The county, awarded $7 million, is asking for another $7.3 million. Projects on the wish list include $2 million to help pay for Meade Middle School and $2.4 million to renovate Davidsonville Elementary.

Baltimore City: The city is asking for $4.9 million, on top of $20.7 million approved. The school system is seeking $2 million to pay for an addition to Laurence G. Paquin School and nearly $3 million for renovations at eight other schools.

Baltimore County: The county is getting $17.8 million and is seeking $17.3 million more. Almost all of the extra money would be spent on renovations at 19 elementary schools.

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