- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

ANNAPOLIS The Maryland House Appropriations Committee yesterday approved freezing education funding for Prince George's County public schools at this year's level unless the legislature replaces the school board with a partly appointed one.
The bill pushed by Appropriations Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, Baltimore Democrat, and Prince George's County House delegation Chairman Rushern L. Baker III, a Democrat passedin the 27-member committee with just three opposing votes.
It would withhold more than $34 million in funding in the budget bill for Prince George's schools at a time when county lawmakers argue that their schools are already underfunded and cannot meet the needs of 136,000 students without adding about $30 million.
Mr. Rawlings and Mr. Baker said the move was leverage needed to get the county's Senate delegation to go forward with a proposal to require change in the county school board and improvement in the schools.
Related bills have stalled in the Senate in previous years but gained a new urgency this year when the county school board in February voted to fire Superintendent Iris T. Metts.
The state school board reinstated Mrs. Metts, but the wrangling has continued, and lawmakers are anxious to bring stability and improvement to the school system, which rank next to last in Maryland. Baltimore is ranked last.
Of the committee's four Prince George's delegates, two voted for it and two against.
"I don't think the punishment fits the crime. I for one cannot take that money from the children," said Delegate Joan B. Pitkin, a Democrat.
"I support the bill restructuring the board … but I don't want to hold the money hostage based on the views of senators," said Delegate Melony Griffith, a Democrat.
The House has already approved a bill that would create a crisis-management panel to handle impasses and problems until a new board could be installed in December.
But county senators contend that there's no crisis because the state superintendent has broad power to intercede, and a majority of senators wants to hold out for both more funding and a new school board.
Today, the House Ways and Means Committee will consider a bill that would create a new school board with five elected and four appointed members.
But Mr. Baker said he's having a hard time selling the proposal in the House because Ways and Means members say the Senate won't act.
"We need to send a message to tell the Senate to get off their hindparts," Mr. Baker said.
Prince George's County Senate delegation chairman Paul G. Pinsky complained that it was unfair for Mr. Rawlings to "put a stick over our heads" when Baltimore's failing schools were offered $254 million upfront in 1997 in exchange for more state oversight and a new school board.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat who represents part of Prince George's County, and Mr. Rawlings both favor an all-appointed board.
Senator Leo E. Green, Prince George's Democrat, said he's optimistic that lawmakers will work their differences and pass bills mandating a new school board and sending county schools money they need before the General Assembly adjourns at midnight April 8.
"We've got plenty of time" and tools, Mr. Green said. "And we've got the president of the Senate and he carries a big stick."

The House of Delegates approved legislation yesterday that would set up a commission to study tax revenues and Maryland's future needs in areas such as health, education and transportation.
During debate yesterday, Republicans said the commission is just an excuse by Democrats to find a way to raise taxes after the next election.
Democratic leaders say the commission will look at ways to cut spending along with examining the tax structure.
House Majority Leader Maggie L. McIntosh, Baltimore Democrat, said that with a new governor and new legislature taking office next year, it will be a good time to examine the state's fiscal condition.

A group of ministers from Baltimore were in Annapolis yesterday to lobby the legislature and Gov. Parris N. Glendening for an agenda that includes a moratorium on executions in the state and more money for education.
About 100 ministers representing various denominations held a prayer session outside the House Appropriations Committee, which was voting on the state budget.
The ministers want the committee to go along with Mr. Glendening's plan to cancel a 2 percent income tax cut that took effect in January. They would like the money to be used for schools, drug treatment and the revitalization of Baltimore neighborhoods.

A bill that would allow state and local officials to deny access to records that might be useful to terrorists cleared the House yesterday.
Supporters say the bill is narrowly drawn so that only records that would clearly be of use to terrorists will be shut off from public view.
The bill is one of a series of proposals drafted by Mr. Glendening and legislative leaders as a response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. The House also passed a bill that would give the governor greater powers to deal with emergency situations.

The House was considering yesterday a joint resolution urging the Glendening administration to begin an environmental-impact study for the Inter-County Connector.
Supporters say the proposed highway linking Montgomery and Prince George's counties would reduce traffic congestion.
The study is needed before work can start on the project. Mr. Glendening opposes building the highway.
The Senate passed the same resolution 38-8 Monday night.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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