ANNAPOLIS – Prince George’s legislators hope the county’s effort to get out of a court-ordered school busing plan will strengthen their case for extra state education funding.
School officials have argued that busing is no longer needed for racial balance in the majority-black county and have proposed a massive school building program that would allow a return to neighborhood schools.
“They’re not going to let us out (of busing) until they’re assured that there’s money in the kitty to build those schools,” said Del. Richard A. Palumbo, D-Prince George’s.
That money, he added, would have to come from the state.
Prince George’s legislators are likely to use the busing issue as a bargaining chip as they compete with other jurisdictions for a share of the state’s expected $260 million surplus.
In addition to the request for school construction funds, Prince George’s County lawmakers will attempt to wrestle additional money from the state for school operating expenses, delegation members said.
“We want to reduce class sizes, we want to build some schools and we’re going to be knocking on the door to get that done,” said Del. Obie Patterson, D-Prince George’s.
Gov. Parris Glendening has already said that his proposed fiscal 1999 budget earmarks $61.5 million for disadvantaged children, $16 million of which is targeted for Prince George’s.
But Prince George’s lawmakers also expressed concerns that the county may have to give up some independence for the extra money.
“The two questions are going to be `How much money are we going to get and how many strings are going to be attached?'” said Del. Rushern L. Baker III, D-Prince George’s.
Baltimore City schools last year got an extra $254 million in state education aid over five years in exchange for concessions that included replacing the city’s elected school board with an appointed board.
Del. Mary A. Conroy, D-Prince George’s, expressed concerns that a similar arrangement could be forced on Prince George’s.
“There’s been some talk that if we want as many dollars as Baltimore City, we would have to give up something. There has been talk about having an appointed school board,” Conroy said. “I don’t know that an appointed school board would go over well in my district.”
Funding for higher education, especially for the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, also figured prominently in some county legislators’ minds.
Del. Pauline H. Menes, D-Prince George’s, said that the state should allocate part of its surplus to College Park to compensate for lower-than-expected allotments in recent years.
“The College Park campus lost increases that were planned about five years ago. There was no money,” she said. “But it’s especially important now that there is money that this year’s budget make up for the promised increases.”
After education, lawmakers said they were concerned with maintaining funding for county road and bridge maintenance and making sure county farmers are not hurt by new regulations aimed at stemming the outbreak of Pfiesteria piscicida.