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Baltimore County Bracing for Possible Education Cuts by Governor-Elect

John Lee
/
wypr

Teachers in Baltimore County are looking at the dilemma Republican Governor-elect Larry Hogan will face when he takes office and worrying that will mean education likely will take a financial hit.

State fiscal experts already have predicted a $750 million budget deficit for the next fiscal year. Plus, Hogan campaigned on cutting the budget, and is promising tax cuts, as well. Add to that that nearly half the state’s general fund is spent on education and you begin to understand their fears. 

Lisa Norrington, who has been teaching for 23 years at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, says the more than 50-year-old school, has no air conditioning and bathrooms that are disaster areas. She says nearby Dundalk High School is “gorgeous.” “It looks like a college campus. But if you go to the other side of Wise Avenue, Merritt Boulevard, and you take a look at our school, and it almost looks like a prison in comparison.”

Baltimore County teachers and government leaders broke bread over the weekend at a legislative breakfast in Timonium. The teachers drilled lawmakers on what teachers and students need. Cheryl Bost with the Maryland State Education Association is on leave from her job as a Baltimore County teacher. She says a lot of the old schools can’t handle new technology. The county last year started a $200 million program to expand computer use by students and teachers. “The school that I taught at, at Prettyboy Elementary, is over 80 years old,” she said. “We have very few outlets, even in every classroom. That’s infrastructure. I can’t use a lot of computers and technology if I only have two outlets.”

The money to renovate old schools like Patapsco and Prettyboy would come out of Baltimore County’s capital budget. And about a third of that money comes from the state. In 2004, a state commission recommended spending $250 million annually statewide on school construction to deal with what it said was a crisis. Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley made it a priority and spent even more. So, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz says that may be low-hanging fruit for Hogan. “I think it’s a logical area for someone who wants to cut the budget to say, ‘OK, if we are over, that is funding more than the minimum requirements, then maybe that’s something to look at,” Kamenetz said. Kamenetz, a Democrat, worries that aid to community colleges also could be cut. But fellow Democrat, state Senator Jim Brochin, says tere’s enough fat in the state budget that Hogan can cut without touching public education. For instance, he says the state can save $60 million a year by cutting aid to private colleges. “If you want to send your kid to private school, I’m all for it,” Brochin says. “But it’s on your dime. It shouldn’t be on the government’s dime. Government shouldn’t be giving you 60 million bucks a year.”

Johnny Ray Salling is a Republican state senator-elect who will represent the Dundalk area. Salling believes Hogan will listen to what teachers and Democrats have to say. “I think they’re going to be able to sit down and talk to each other and see eye to eye, the things that are necessary and the things that are wanted,” he said. “Of course, they are different, but I think they will be able to work together.”

Hogan says he won’t discuss specifics until after he is sworn in Jan. 21.