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Baltimore school deal could boost local coffers

March 21, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County schools could see an additional $1.3 million in state funding next year as part of a deal Maryland lawmakers are crafting to combat statewide opposition to a court settlement for Baltimore City schools.

"We would welcome it. This is good news," said county Board of Education President B. Marie Byers.

But not all view the legislative gold rush, in which $44 million in new school funds would be spread across the state, is good news. Del D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, said the state is spending money it doesn't have. And if it had the money, he would rather see it be spent on areas like improving state parks and giving state workers a pay raise.

"This is absurd. This is absolutely absurd," Poole said.

A joint House of Delegates committee met Thursday night to review the proposal. The plan could reach the House floor by early next week.

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"In my mind, if this (deal) is going to come down, it's not going to hurt the county, and if it's some new money, that could help," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, a member of the joint committee.

Baltimore City is slated to receive $254 million over five years as part of a settlement of three lawsuits brought against the state to seek additional funding for the city's school systems.

But many lawmakers, particularly those representing large counties in the metropolitan areas, have balked at the plan, prompting a move to increase state school funding elsewhere. That idea picked up steam last week when state officials reported a growing economy is generating tax revenues at higher-than-expected rate, with an extra $70 million now projected.

"That's very true, but I've also been around here long enough to know there will come a time when the economy doesn't grow," Poole warned.

The formula under consideration in the House is based mainly on the number of students who received free and reduced-price lunches. Washington County's appropriation would be the seventh-largest in the state.

About half of the county Board of Education's $96.6 million budget comes from state funding. Current budget projections estimate for that amount to increase to $50.4 million next year.

An additional $1.3 million would mean a 2.5 percent increase in state dollars, or equal to the amount of money generated by more than 5 cents of the county's property tax rate.

But Byers is worried the County Commissioners would cut their own support to the school system just because of the additional state funds.

"That is one concern, that they will try to supplant their own responsibility to our county," Byers said.

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