Baltimore school panel to pay lobbyist $150,000

City system is unique in Maryland in hiring Washington liaison to obtain federal grants

October 30, 2005|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

The Baltimore school board has approved a $150,000 contract to pay a Washington lobbyist to secure federal grants for education programs.

The school system has used the lobbyist, Singleton B. McAllister, since 2001 and paid the firms she worked with $420,000, according to semiannual reports lobbyists are required to file with Congress.

Vanessa Pyatt, a school system spokeswoman, said McAllister has been successful in securing "well over $2 million" in federal money for the school system during that time.

The contract was approved with no discussion at a school board meeting Tuesday night.

One board member, former state Del. James W. Campbell, voted against the contract.

"I didn't think this was the year to do it because of the deficit," Campbell said later.

The school system was crippled two years ago by a $58 million deficit, 60 percent of which was paid off last school year. The system is trying to pay off the remaining 40 percent by the end of this school year.

Also, Campbell said, he doesn't know of another Maryland school system with a Washington lobbyist.

A check of PoliticalMoneyLine, a Web site that tracks lobbyists and campaign money, confirms that Baltimore's school system is the only one in the state that pays a Washington lobbyist. The Web site also shows that some other urban school districts around the nation use lobbyists.

James Browning, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said school systems and other public entities often resort to such measures.

"It's a sad fact of politics that schools are competing with a lot of big corporations for a piece of the budget pie, and they're forced to play by the same rules," Browning said.

Browning said the pharmaceutical industry has more than 600 lobbyists in Washington. "It's like a personal lobbyist for every member of Congress, with some to spare," he said.

McAllister was a legislative assistant to former Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, a Democrat who represented Maryland's 7th District. She has worked for three lobbying firms in the time she has done work for the school system. She currently works for Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo P.C., the firm with which the school board approved a contract.

According to the firm's Web site, McAllister "assists clients in navigating the laws and regulations governing diversity issues and provides legal counsel and crisis management."

She previously worked for Patton Boggs LLP and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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