ANNAPOLIS – Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry made a personal appeal Tuesday for a generous state funding formula that would let the county build 16 new schools and get out from under a court’s desegregation order.
But a hostile House Appropriations Committee appeared unmoved, arguing that if the state changed the formula for one county it would be unfair to the others.
The Senate has already voted against a plan that would have the state pay for school construction costs — such as land acquisition and engineering — that are normally picked up by the county. The Appropriations Committee took no action on the proposal Tuesday.
At stake is a four-year, $268 million plan to build 16 schools. Construction of those schools would let Prince George’s County get out of a court-ordered desegregation plan that was imposed in 1972.
“We can get out from under a 26-year agreement,” Curry told the committee.
The school-building plan was agreed to by the county and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which brought the original desegregation suit.
The state has already committed $140 million over four years for the school construction.
But county officials say they cannot afford to pay their share for all 16 schools if they have to pay for architecture, land acquisition and other costs that the state does not pay for under the current school construction formula. Unless the state picks up those “ineligible costs,” they say, they will only be able to afford about 10 new schools.
Without all 16 schools, “then everything’s off” in the settlement, said Alvin Thornton, Prince George’s County school board chairman. “It will throw our county into a major mess.”
Gov. Parris Glendening, a former Prince George’s County executive, had pledged to have the state cover the ineligible costs. Curry urged the Appropriations Committee to abide by that pledge.
“I thought when we met with the governor that we had a proposal on which everybody could agree,” Curry said.
“Where I came from, a deal is a deal and that’s what you got,” he said.
But committee members were not impressed.
“We were not a party to an agreement,” said Del. Howard “Pete” Rawlings, D-Baltimore and chairman of the committee. “Already the Senate has tried to eliminate the requirement for the state to pick up the ineligible costs. … Do you prefer a handshake with the governor or a strong statement of law?”
“I prefer the agreement,” Curry said.
Committee members also chided Curry for coming in at the last minute, saying the county had not provided justification for a change in the formula.
“Our staff has been having great difficulty getting information from your offices and schools,” said Rawlings.
Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore and chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, echoed Rawlings’ statements Tuesday.
“In all honesty, it has been very difficult to get data from your office,” said Hoffman, who was invited to sit in on the Appropriations Committee meeting.
After the hearing, Curry refused to discuss what steps the county might take if the legislature refused to change the school-funding formula.
“I’m not here to speculate what happens if the deal doesn’t go through,” he said. “I’m here to fight for this deal.”
Whatever the vote, Glendening remains committed to making sure a settlement is reached to end court-ordered busing in the county.
“The governor is going to continue to work to give the county the flexibility it needs to build more new schools,” said Ray Feldmann, a spokesman for Glendening.