School funds inspire debate

Governor, legislators discuss how to spend extra $22 million

March 14, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron and Gady A. Epstein | Thomas W. Waldron and Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and legislative leaders are crafting an education aid package that would send an extra $22 million to local school systems next year, although key details over how to spend the money are unresolved.

The proposal falls far short of what education advocates have called for to address a variety of needs, including a proposed $49 million intervention program to help students prepare for competency tests.

It also seems certain that any final package will not include most of the nearly $50 million sought by Baltimore officials for the city's beleaguered school system.

But legislators said the extra state aid would meet some education needs.

"It's going to be a multifaceted enhancement that's going to address a variety of shortcomings," House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said yesterday.

Sources said Glendening has essentially embraced the overall size of the aid package -- about $22 million -- but disagrees with legislators over how to spend the money.

In particular, Glendening has rejected any plan to send substantial new state aid to local school systems without strict rules on how it's spent. The governor is insisting that the money be used for targeted needs, including the intervention plan or extending hours in some Baltimore schools.

"We're not likely to send large amounts of money undesignated," Glendening said.

A key part of the package winning favor among senators and delegates is a provision designed so that the money would not count against the General Assembly's self-imposed spending limits.

Although the state is enjoying a $1 billion budget surplus, the spending limits have hamstrung legislators' efforts to plow much additional money into education.

Lawmakers have identified $22 million that local jurisdictions now pay to the state to cover the retirement costs of some teachers whose salaries are paid by the federal government.

Forgiving those payments would allow counties to retain the $22 million without the payments counting against the spending limits.

"We think the retirement money will give the school districts some flexibility with how they want to spend it," said Del. Sheila E. Hixson, a Montgomery Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, which is handling the aid package.

Glendening and key lawmakers say such a move would not send enough money to the poorest jurisdictions, such as Baltimore.

"The governor thought it would be wiser for us to collect the [retirement] money from the counties and resend it, and I think that's a good idea," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Senate budget committee.

Request trimmed

Under the House plan, Baltimore would collect about $6 million of the $22 million spent statewide.

With the $50 million initially sought by the Baltimore school system deemed unrealistic, Hoffman has recently scaled back her request to $25 million.

She said she remains hopeful that such an amount will be found before the legislature finishes its work April 10.

"The governor's not being oppositional," said Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat. "He really is attempting to find the money."

Salary debate

As part of the discussions, legislators and the governor are negotiating over possible changes to his $35 million proposal to increase teacher salaries.

Under the governor's proposal, any county that increases teacher salaries by 4 percent next year would be eligible for a 1 percent state match.

With some counties protesting they cannot afford the 4 percent raises, legislators have proposed lowering the counties' share to 3 percent, a move strongly opposed by Glendening.

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