Glendening vetoes bill on school repair funds

Method of distribution would have been changed

May 08, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening vetoed legislation yesterday that would have changed how Maryland distributes money to repair aging schools - a decision that will cost Baltimore almost $1.7 million next year.

The governor's veto, the first this year, comes after heavy lobbying from officials in Montgomery County and the 16 other school systems that would have lost funding under the bill.

"I'm sorry for Baltimore City, but I'm pleased for Montgomery County," said Sen. Ida G. Ruben, a Montgomery Democrat. Montgomery would have lost more than $900,000.

City schools supporters sharply criticized the governor's decision. "This bill would have more accurately distributed funding," said Christopher N. Maher of Advocates for Children and Youth. "It appears that politics will prevail over equity, and poor children will suffer in decrepit buildings."

In a four-page letter to legislative leaders, Glendening acknowledged the concerns of the 17 school systems that would have lost money. He said any funding changes should come from the work of a new school construction task force.

"The change occurred without sufficient notice to the jurisdictions that the amounts they had planned to receive for the upcoming fiscal year would be reduced," Glendening wrote.

The bill, approved in the final hours of the General Assembly, would have changed how the state distributes money to renovate schools built before 1960. Next year's total is $10.4 million.

For Baltimore, the change would have boosted state aid from $1.6 million to $3.3 million.

"The money is significant. It would have made a difference," said Mark Smolarz, the city system's chief operating officer. "It was for things like renovating gyms, painting, replacing lighting, repairing bathrooms, fixing bleachers, paving - all of those little repairs and cracks that we never have money for."

The other six systems that would have gained funding are Anne Arundel, Caroline, Frederick, Prince George's, St. Mary's and Washington counties.

Charles, Dorchester and Somerset counties would have lost all aid from the program. Allegany, Carroll, Cecil, Montgomery, Wicomico and Baltimore counties each would have lost more than $100,000.

For the past five years, construction money for aging schools has been divided based on the proportion of pre-1960 school building footage each system had as of 1997.

The legislation originally passed by the House would have created a task force to study school construction. But the Senate adopted an amendment from Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman to update the formula to reflect the current amount of older school space in each district.

"Since the purpose of the money was for pre-1960 classroom space, it seems very inequitable to me to continue to give it to systems that didn't have as much pre-1960 classroom space," said Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat.

Some Montgomery lawmakers charged that Hoffman slipped in the amendment to get back at them for the concessions they won in the Thornton Commission legislation to increase state operating aid to schools.

"The aging-school construction bill was unfair to many jurisdictions, and it was also misrepresented as to what it was doing," said Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., a Montgomery Democrat.

Hoffman denied the charges and said the changes were made clear. She expects to serve on the school construction task force and said she will continue to push for the formula change.

The governor issued the veto in advance of an announcement today of construction aid to all 24 Maryland school systems.

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