School systems ask Maryland panel for construction money

$78 million is at stake for the next fiscal year

January 25, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening didn't take long yesterday to remind legislators and educators of the power he wields over Maryland's school construction dollars.

As representatives from 18 of the state's 24 school systems came before the Board of Public Works in their annual appeal for money to build and renovate classrooms, Glendening made clear that politics can be as important as student enrollment.

"Where is the senator?" he asked the delegation from Caroline County, referring to Republican Sen. Richard F. Colburn. "I noted with interest his request for $7.7 million and his regular votes against the budget. How can we fund this project without a budget?"

For those politicians who might have missed the governor's message, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer was more blunt: "Be admonished, if you don't vote for the budget, you won't get the money."

At stake yesterday was about $78 million of the $266 million in state funding expected for school construction for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The rest of the money - almost $188 million - has been assigned to help pay for 260 projects across the state, awarded based on a formula that considers enrollment and aging buildings, said Yale Stenzler, executive director of the Interagency Committee for State Public School Construction

There's no chance that the Board of Public Works will be able to meet all of the requests made yesterday as the school systems asked for more than $153 million - or almost twice the remaining available dollars.

Glendening, like other governors, has often used his influence over the money to reward legislators who support his legislative agenda and punish those who don't. The final assignment of the money usually isn't announced until May, after the conclusion of the General Assembly.

"I have voted `green' more times on your budget than I've voted `red,'" Sen. Larry E. Haines, a conservative Carroll County Republican, told the governor, referring to the lights on the board that records senators' votes. "We don't agree 100 percent of the time, but a lot of your initiatives I do support."

The annual four-hour session of appeals - known in some State House circles as the "beg-athon" - included requests large and small.

Howard County - which already had won approval for $16.7 million for next year - asked for the most money of any county system yesterday, another $24.7 million. That includes money the county believes it is owed by the state for school projects completed as long as 12 years ago.

Other Baltimore area requests included $4.5 million for Anne Arundel County, $26.3 million for Baltimore, $12.7 million for Baltimore County, $7 million for Carroll County and $1.6 million for Harford County.

Legislators, superintendents, school board members and local elected officials almost fell over themselves to repeatedly to thank the governor, treasurer and comptroller for past financial support.

Harford County was seeking only enough money to cover the final costs of renovating Aberdeen High School, but County Executive James M. Harkins nevertheless came with gifts: Ravens T-shirts and stuffed dolls for the board members.

"I think your request is looking better by the moment," Glendening said with a smile.

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