- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

ANNAPOLIS The first Board of Public Works meeting for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. included an exchange of gifts and compliments with Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, a friendly contrast to past meetings in which the comptroller heaped insults and criticism upon Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Before listening to public school officials plead for money the state does not have, Mr. Ehrlich presented Mr. Schaefer with brownies and Mrs. Kopp with a small, gift-wrapped present.
"My name is Ehrlich and I come bearing gifts," he said.
Mr. Ehrlich said the comptroller and treasurer were "two people for whom I have love and great respect."
Mr. Schaefer and Mrs. Kopp gave the new governor a gold compass.
"You are the new captain," Mrs. Kopp said.
Previous meetings had become political theater as Mr. Schaefer, a past governor himself, publicly derided Mr. Glendening's performance, especially his handling of the state budget and his spending, which helped create the $1.8 billion shortfall inherited by Mr. Ehrlich.
However, the public rivalry between the two Democrats ended with a conciliatory exchange of gifts and niceties at Mr. Glendening's final Board of Public Works meeting two weeks ago.
At yesterday's meeting, the three-member board heard requests for school construction funding from 20 of the state's 24 public school systems.
The funding requests totaled more than $300 million, but only about $117 million for improvements to public schools is available in Mr. Ehrlich's capital budget proposal, which he will submit to the legislature today.
The funding requests included more than $200 million for building new schools, with only about $33 million available.
The board will reconvene in May to respond to the appeals.
Mr. Ehrlich said the capital budget would be lean, but he would keep his promise to support public education.
"I made a commitment to uplift Maryland's children," he said. "I pledge to increase funding for school construction projects as part of my goal to support K-through-12 education."
Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick commended Mr. Ehrlich for sparing public schools from massive cuts during the budget crunch.
"I am pleased to say that local governments and their school systems will not bear the brunt of our fiscal woes," she said.
Mr. Ehrlich said the board would meet privately with school superintendents to learn which requests have the highest priority.
"I know you have tough decisions to make," Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley told the board in support of more than 50 school projects in his city.
He also said city leaders have great things planned for the schools, but "we need the capital dollars and we need your help."
Legislators and officials from the other 19 school systems made similar appeals.

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