Ehrlich to veto takeover delay

City officials say they have enough votes to override governor's decision on schools bill

April 02, 2006|By DAVID NITKIN AND JOHN FRITZE | DAVID NITKIN AND JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTERS

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that he would "proudly" veto a bill passed by the General Assembly that imposes a moratorium on a state takeover of city schools, but Mayor Martin O'Malley and city lawmakers insisted that they had the votes to overturn the governor's decision.

The governor said yesterday that federal education funds would be jeopardized if the state does not act promptly to find new management for 11 failing Baltimore middle and high schools. The state school board, at the recommendation of Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, approved the takeover last week, believed to be the first of its kind under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Many city lawmakers said the state action was heavy-handed and done without communicating with Baltimore leaders, and smacked of election-year politics. O'Malley, a Democrat, is seeking his party's nomination to run against Ehrlich, a Republican who is expected to seek re-election.

At an afternoon news conference outside the city school system's administration building on North Avenue, O'Malley and several members of the city delegation praised the General Assembly for its quick action.

"When the veto comes, we're going to be ready," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat and the Senate's majority leader.

The Senate voted 30-17 to approve the moratorium, one vote more than the 29 needed to override. The House vote, 100-34, was comfortably ahead of the 85 needed for an override, officials said.

"We're absolutely confident," said Del. Salima S. Marriott, also a city Democrat. "We will continue to talk to people to ensure that we can override any veto from the governor."

Ehrlich insisted that intervention is necessary to help a school system that has been failing for years.

"The federal funds, we believe will be at risk, and there are certain legal options that we are looking at," Ehrlich said yesterday, speaking on his biweekly show on WBAL radio.

The legislature rushed into action after Grasmick's announcement, passing a moratorium Friday with hours to spare before a deadline that would have prevented lawmakers from attempting an override before their adjournment April 10.

"I do believe that those veto-proof majorities may not hold on an override," the governor said yesterday. "I most certainly will override, proudly override this bill," he said, apparently in reference to his veto.

Ehrlich said he could not understand why anyone would want to prevent state intervention. Opponents, he said, are "defending the indefensible."

"We are not talking about a discretionary activity by the state here," Ehrlich said. City students "have a vested right, a constitutional right, to a quality education."

"I don't care about the politics. I don't care if Martin O'Malley doesn't like Nancy Grasmick. It's not about Martin O'Malley, Bob Ehrlich, Nancy Grasmick, Bonnie Copeland. It's not about anything other than the kids who deserve their constitutional rights, and they are not receiving them."

O'Malley said that argument overlooks progress the city school system has made in recent years, including an increase in the number of students passing standardized tests.

"In this day and age, whenever we want to continue to make progress as a people, we have to override a gubernatorial veto," O'Malley said. "There are a lot of people who like to wag their paternalistic finger and tell a multicultural, proud and diverse and strong people that we cannot achieve. Don't you believe it."

david.nitkin@baltsun.com

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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