Md. As­sem­bly Agrees On School Aid For­mula

The Washington Post Sunday - - Metro - By John Wag­ner

Bud­get ne­go­tia­tors in the Mary­land leg­is­la­ture agreed yes­ter­day on how to al­lo­cate a record $400 mil­lion in school con­struc­tion funds next year, help­ing Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley make good on a cam­paign prom­ise and re­solv­ing one of a hand­ful of out­stand­ing is­sues in a ses­sion sched­uled to end to­mor­row.

With a grow­ing num­ber of trail­ers spring­ing up in school­yards across the state, law­mak­ers agreed early in the 90-day ses­sion that con­struc­tion should be a pri­or­ity. Both the House and Se­nate ap­proved the fund­ing amount weeks ago, but they crafted du­el­ing plans about how to dis­trib­ute it.

The deal reached yes­ter­day ear­marks $52.25 mil­lion each for four of the state’s largest ju­ris­dic­tions — Mont­gomery, Prince Ge­orge’s and Bal­ti­more coun­ties and the city of Bal­ti­more — and lesser amounts for other coun­ties based on a for­mula pro­posed by O’Mal­ley (D). None of those ju­ris­dic­tions re­ceived more than $40 mil­lion for the cur­rent fis­cal year, which ends in June.

But the bump is not likely to be part of a trend, law­mak­ers said yes­ter­day.

“It’s prob­a­bly a one-time shot,” said Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr. (D-Anne Arun­del), cit­ing other needs at univer­si­ties and else­where in the state that have been de­layed to ac-

com­mo­date the ad­di­tional school con­struc­tion spend­ing.

The $400 mil­lion for school con­struc­tion is al­most half of the state’s $827 mil­lion cap­i­tal bud­get for the com­ing fis­cal year.

O’Mal­ley has pledged to pro­pose at least $250 mil­lion a year for school con­struc­tion for the re­main­der of his term. Dur­ing last year’s cam­paign, he railed against the num­ber of “tem­po­rary learn­ing shacks” that have ap­peared at crowded schools in the Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs and other parts of Mary­land.

The Se­nate had pro­posed leav­ing school con­struc­tion de­ci­sions to a state panel set up for that pur­pose. But the House spelled out where the money should go in its ver­sion of the cap­i­tal bud­get.

Un­der the House plan, Prince Ge­orge’s would have re­ceived about $3 mil­lion more than un­der O’Mal­ley’s plan. Mont­gomery would have fared about the same. Both plans were based on sev­eral vari­ables, in­clud­ing the age of the ju­ris­dic­tion’s fa­cil­i­ties.

John White, spokesman for Prince Ge­orge’s County schools, said of­fi­cials would un­doubt­edly wel­come the ex­tra money be­cause it will help speed ren­o­va­tions and con­struc­tion projects. The $52.25 mil­lion is an es­pe­cially large fig­ure, he said, given the mag­ni­tude of a three­year, $126 mil­lion project the county has un­der­taken to re­pair roofs and heat­ing sys­tems at 100 schools.

The ex­tra money “cer­tainly means that we will be able to ad­dress the de­mands we have on sched­ule or sooner,” White said.

The fund­ing will also help ex­pe­dite con­struc­tion in Mont­gomery, where school of­fi­cials are con­cerned about the sys­tem’s large num­ber of trail­ers, said Board of Ed­u­ca­tion mem­ber Christo­pher S. Bar­clay (Dis­trict 4).

“Ev­ery child de­serves to be in a de­cent class­room . . . and [th­ese] learn­ing cot­tages, ‘re­lo­cat­a­bles,’ what­ever is be­ing used, the fact is, a kid is not in the build­ing with the rest of his school­mates,” Bar­clay said of the trail­ers. “Some­one has to get out of their class­room and go inside to use the bath­room. That’s not great for any child.”

Bud­get ne­go­tia­tors said yes­ter­day that they plan to wrap up work to­mor­row morn­ing on the state’s $30 bil­lion op­er­at­ing bud­get. Ne­go­ti­a­tions stalled last week over dif­fer­ences on a small num­ber of items in the House and Se­nate plans, in­clud­ing how much to spend on stem cell re­search.

O’Mal­ley had pro­posed spend­ing $25 mil­lion next year, up from $15 mil­lion this year. Law­mak­ers said they have now reached an in­for­mal agree­ment to spend $23 mil­lion.

“We’re not that far apart on any­thing,” said Del. Norman H. Con­way (D-Wi­comico), the House ap­pro­pri­a­tions chair­man.

An­other late-mov­ing ini­tia­tive — re­quir­ing state con­trac­tors to pay em­ploy­ees a “liv­ing wage” — con­tin­ued its march to­ward pas­sage yes­ter­day. The Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee voted 7 to 4 to send the bill to the Se­nate floor.

The mea­sure, which cleared the House on Fri­day, would re­quire con­trac­tors do­ing work in the Wash­ing­ton-Bal­ti­more cor­ri­dor to pay their em­ploy­ees $11.30 an hour. The floor would be set at $8.50 in more rural ju­ris­dic­tions.

Mary­land would be­come the first state in the na­tion to have such a re­quire­ment, which has been adopted by more than 100 lo­cal­i­ties across the coun­try.

Be­fore pass­ing the bill, the Se­nate panel added an ex­emp­tion for com­pa­nies with 10 or fewer em­ploy­ees per­form­ing less than $500,000 worth of work.

Se­nate Fi­nance Chair­man Thomas M. Mid­dle­ton (D-Charles) said the bill ap­pears to have the votes to pass the full cham­ber.

“The gov­er­nor is re­ally be­hind this, and he’s re­ally push­ing it hard,” Mid­dle­ton said. Staff writer Ian Shapira con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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