Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening said today he will propose a $40 million increase for the county's schools -- "the largest single increase in education in the history of the county" -- that will fully fund the new magnet school program, raise teacher salaries and reduce classroom size.
Glendening, flanked by School Superintendent John Murphy and state Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), told the county's legislative delegation that he was withdrawing his efforts to get legislative approval for a new county energy tax to fund schools. He would, instead, make "internal adjustments" to the county budget in order to boost school spending from $349 million this year to $389 next year, or an 11.5 percent increase. His school budget must be approved by the County Council.
Several legislators said they interpreted Glendening's decision to back off the energy tax as a way to mend fences with legislators, like Miller, who had vowed to oppose it. Miller said he also believed Glendening was making an overture to Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, an all-but-announced candidate for governor this year for whom Miller is gathering support.
"Parris realizes that if Schaefer does become governor, Schaefer's main issue is going to be urban concerns," Miller said after the meeting. "We want to be in on the ground level."
Glendening denied he had any such political motives in mind.
Murphy, who launched an ambitious program establishing special, or "magnet" classes to racially balance the area's second largest school system, seemed pleased with Glendening's news.
"Forty million dollars is a significant increase," said Murphy, who, in order to be at the delegation meeting, canceled a trip with Vice President George Bush to the memorial service for the dead astronauts in Houston. "We had anticipated considerably less."
In exchange for dropping the effort to tax commercial use of energy, Glendening said that Miller and other legislators "have assured" him that they will work next year to pass an energy tax authorization or other legislation designed to give the county additional taxing power.
"Without these guarantees, I would have been reluctant to fund this very significant increase in education because we would not have been able to maintain the higher funding level," Glendening said.
Miller, who did not speak in front of the delegation, said that an energy tax proposal had no chance of gaining approval this year either in Annapolis or in Upper Marlboro, where the County Council would have had to enact it.
Next year, he added, is likely to be a different story.
"If implementation of additional taxing authority is the only viable alternative to maintaining and improving education in Prince George's County, I would certainly favorably consider such a proposal," he said.
Half an hour before the delegation's weekly meeting was scheduled to begin, the four sponsors of the bill were summoned to breakfast with county lobbyist Royal Hart and Chief Administrative Officer John Wesley White where they were informed of the announcement Glendening would make.
"We were told Miller was going to stand up and make a public statement at the meeting ," said a clearly angry Del. Frank Pesci. "And he never said a word. How can I trust -- number one -- Miller, and -- number two -- Parris?"
The rest of the 26-member delegation gathered for the meeting expecting to vote on a procedure that would have allowed belated consideration of the energy tax measure. School Supt. Murphy had already publicly suggested that it was the best way to fund the school system's growth needs and had planned to lobby for it at the delegation meeting.
Paul Pinsky, president of the Prince George's County Educators Association, was present at Glendening's announcement and criticized it as the "one-more-year shuffle."
"The total dollars sound good, but I want to see what that translates into in terms of salaries for people," he said.
Glendening and Miller put aside a tradition of sharp differences between them in order to come up with the education funding strategy they have devised. "His word is good," Glendening said of Miller. "I may not always like his word, but it's good."