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Thousands rally for city school repairs, with mayor as headliner

Advocates gathered in Annapolis last night to push for passage of a $32 million block grant bill to start repairing Baltimore's decrepit public schools.

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School advocates in Annapolis went wild when Mayor Rawlings-Blake led them in the Ravens’ unofficial anthem, “Seven Nation Army.”

Photo by: Fern Shen

Borrowing some mojo from the Superbowl-winning Ravens, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake addressed a charged-up, cheering crowd in Annapolis last night rallying for funding for dilapidated city schools.

Looking out on the sea of city residents outside the Statehouse (a crowd organizers estimated at more than 3,000) the mayor picked up on the tune she heard some singing: the football team’s unofficial theme song this year, “Seven Nation Army.”

“The chant that got us to the Lombardi Trophy, that’s the same chant that’s going to get this bill passed!” she said, prompting a roar from the crowd.

The bill in question would create an annual $32 million block grant in the budget for city school building upgrades, locking in state funding Baltimore already receives so that it can be used to leverage bonds to pay for the massive amounts needed.

The block grant bill is the foundation of the advocates’ 10-year plan to renovate or replace the city’s aging school buildings, with their leaking pipes, malfunctioning boilers, grimy windows, lack of air conditioning, lack of modern science labs and computers and other flaws.

Total needs are estimated at a daunting $2.4 billion.

A crowd in Annapolis said to be over 3,000 demanded state funds to renovate out-of-date Baltimore public schools.(Photo by Fern Shen)

A crowd in Annapolis said to be over 3,000 demanded state funds to renovate out-of-date Baltimore public schools.(Photo by Fern Shen)

The block grant measure is intended to create a funding stream for the first five years of the plan. After months of pep rallies and strategy sessions in Baltimore, last night’s raucous rally marked the Annapolis phase of the advocates campaign.

Students, teachers, parents and more than a thousand members of faith groups poured out of over 60 school buses and into the state capital.

The Politics: Busch but no Miller

The lineup of elected officials standing before them on the dais last night said much about where the measure stands politically.

Members of the Baltimore City Council were there, as were members of the city’s delegation to Annapolis, who say the school funding bill is their top priority.

Also addressing the crowd were Lt. Governor Anthony Brown and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who noted that most city schools have not been renovated since the 1950s, when he attended one. “It’s too long to wait for new schools,” Busch said.

“Whether you’re educated in Bethesda or Chevy Chase or Baltimore City, our kids deserve a world class education,” Brown said.

Former Legg Mason CEO Mark Fetting added his support for a major physical overhaul of city schools. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Former Legg Mason CEO Mark Fetting added his support for a major physical overhaul of city schools. (Photo by Fern Shen)

A couple of Prince George’s County legislators were up there as well, but the most important one – Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller – was not.

Miller has been skeptical about the plan and lawmakers from other parts of the state have also expressed doubts about whether the city can properly manage the massive project.

As if to reassure them, organizers brought up speakers “from the foundation and corporate community,” including Mark R. Fetting, until recently CEO and chairman of Legg Mason Inc.

Overhauling Baltimore’s crumbling public school would benefit the city and the state, Fetting said, adding “we need to make sure it’s done with fiscal discipline . . . and we can do it.”

Channeling Her Inner Ed Reed

But Rawlings-Blake was clearly the chief applause-getter last night.

After initially hanging back on the school construction initiative (mounted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and fellow members of a broad-based alliance, the Baltimore Education Coalition), the mayor is now giving it her full-throated support.

Students from schools across the city came to the rally. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Students from schools across the city came to the rally. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“When they said Baltimore needed to put more skin in the game, we did it,” she said last night, noting her success in winning passage of a city bottle-tax to generate dedicated school repair funds that will be used to match the state’s contribution.

“When the confetti falls on sine die on the last day of session,” the mayor vowed, “we will have a deal for Baltimore city schools.”

To lawmakers from outside Baltimore who would deny city children in Maryland’s poorest jurisdiction equal school facilities, she had this message: “look in the mirror.”

And as if that wasn’t enough, she closed by singing “Seven Nation Army” to the crowd, who needed only a half-a-bar  to recognize it and join in.

“Overdue”

For members of this crowd, which pretty much blanketed Lawyers Mall, there was no doubting, no hanging back.

“We need 21st Century schools,” said Betty Baze, of Cherry Hill, who volunteers her time to tutor pre-schoolers there. Baze praised the school staff and fellow tutors (from AmeriCorps and AARP) but said the conditions in the building are deplorable.

“When it’s so hot in the summer, when you have to bundle up inside the classroom in the winter, when you can’t drink from the water  fountains, when the bathroom plumbing is constantly backed up, you can’t learn,” said Baze, who attended Arundel Elementary School as a child in the 1950s and finds it “much different, much deteriorated” today.

Betty Baze came to support Cherry Hill schools. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Betty Baze came to support Cherry Hill schools. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Along with the adult speakers, the organizers brought up schoolchildren who performed music-and-dance numbers (“Pass that bill!” sang the City Springs Stompers) and described how poor conditions in their schools might hold them back.

(To achieve his dream of getting admitted to MIT, a Roland Park Elementary student said, “I need great computers and great computer labs.”)

“The  water is always backing up in the bathrooms, the  windows are dark and dirty, the paint is chipping down from the ceiling,” said Jessica Good, who came to Annapolis in hopes of bringing about change to Gwynn’s Falls Elementary Middle School. “It’s a horrible environment.”

Good said her parents went to the school, her five-year-old daughter attends the school and she went there as well.

“It’s been those bad conditions building up over three generations,” she said. “It’s overdue for a change.”

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  • RodneyCBurris

    I was a part of this crowd. It is always encouraging to see so many hundreds (thousands?) of my neighbors (cityfolk) join together for the greater good. Proud of us, Baltimore

    -RCB

  • Rocky_Ground

    Great event; truly a remarkable moment of community solidarity. And great photos!

  • William Hudson

    Baltimore City has a 3 BILLION dollar yearly budget, (thats 3,000 million dollars)  There is and has been money for school repairs, but the politicians have spent money on projects THEY like, not where the funds were needed.  The Baltimore City Council and Mayor for years have over spent and over taxxed and that runs the middle class right over the county line.

    • Aaron Mirenzi

      can you be specific here when it comes to projects the city have diverted money towards instead of schools?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/742JMFQTHPEGJE6R3GENZFLWFI Big Stuff

    @google-f725b106a78b7a08e3f519803a813938:disqus

    It took me five minutes on Google to prove that everything you said is basically wrong… I’m guessing your expert opinion is based more on preexisting prejudice than anything found in reality.

    Baltimore has a $2.305 Billion budget (http://finance.baltimorecity.gov/CitizenServices/BalancingtheBudget.aspx). The current infrastructure deficit is ~$2.4 billion. (http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-11-29/news/bs-md-county-schools-facilities-20121129_1_facilities-plan-school-infrastructure-county-schools)

    In comparison, Baltimore county has a $1.482 Billion budget (http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/economicdev/gateway/countygov/budget.html) and with a school infrastruture deficit of ~$1.7 billion.

    Taking that into account, comparatively the city is in a better financial situation of deficit to income than the county, and apparently fleeing the city will not get you schools that are in any less disrepair. I wouldn’t be surprised if Baltimore County does a similar school infrastructure bill next year should this one pass to confront their own, albeit less publicized, dilemma.

  • William Hudson

    I stand corrected the city has a 2.305 BILLION dollar budget (thats 2,305- million dollar bills).  But the city hasnt been able to find money for school repair?  Its about choices Aaron, I think they have wasted money in many places.  I dont know for sure, you dont know for sure and City Hall doesnt know for sure because they have’nt audited their agencies in 25 years.  City Hall doesnt know where the money is going or if it is being spent wisely, all it knows is too increase taxes and fee’s and cut services.  That is why the middle class has left.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/UBB5DQH4Q7OHNZVKLHEAKTXKLY Matthew

    Isn’t that just the way it is…the politicians pissed all of the money away that was supposed to go to school repairs/contruction (including MOM, Dixon, the Conaways, the Mitchells, and SRB) and sends the kids down to Annapolis to beg…

  • Rocky_Ground

          Wow, what universe are you all living in? The City pissed away all of the school construction money? Seriously? The vast bulk of school construction money in Maryland comes from the STATE, and I’m pretty sure the state keeps good track of how the city schools have spent their share over the years.
          The issue is that there has never been enough state money to meet the construction/repair needs of our aging schools. The city has to put up some money to partially match the state money, but as we all know, that’s a challenge as well.
          Yes, our city leaders have pissed away some money, but that is surely not the reason so many of our kids’ buildings are in deplorable condition. They are that way because we, as City residents, have not, until now, gone to Annapolis and demanded that the state honor its constitutional requirement to offer our kids a good education. An education that depends, in part, on having modern, welcoming, safe and comfortable buildings. We do NOT have those now.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/UBB5DQH4Q7OHNZVKLHEAKTXKLY Matthew

      I’m not saying that the schools do not need repairs…even
      the best schools buildings in Baltimore City look as bad the worst buildings in
      other counties…Schools in general are paid for by local property taxes (city
      level) and they get funded by issuing school bonds…what I am saying is that
      the city has robbed their own construction fund over and over again to pay for
      other things over the years and without real oversight or a dissenting second
      political party, the city (the one that I reside, the one that that is ran by a
      tyrant that thinks that audits something that a municipality should not perform
      regularly) will just do it again. This city has gone to Annapolis many times to
      beg for money over the years (whether for schools, police, bailouts, unloading
      city owned institutions, etc.) and sometimes it gets it and other times it
      doesn’t. You may not agree with that history but it happens. But I think it’s
      wrong to send kid to Annapolis with her majesty the mayor to go beg for money
      and it makes this city look like it’s just looking for a bail out. What does
      that teach the kids?…that if enough of you show up at a government office you
      will get a bailout? Maybe it’s time that we have them working to make money to
      pay for better schools… Maybe we should bring back the old industrial schools
      and have the kids learn some work ethic…

  • William Hudson

    Rocky Ground would you agreethat whatever City Hall is about choices?  With a budget of 2.305 billion (I think the figure is actually 3.14 billion) do you think the Mayor and City Council could have chosen to spend money on school repair?

    • Aaron Mirenzi

      William. You ask, could they have chosen to spend the money on school repair? Yes, but at what cost? Less funding for police. Less funding for fixing water main breaks. I’m not yet convinced that you have a point here. But please convince me.

      I would say that whatever money the the city spends on its school is not enough to sufficiently educate the entirety of Baltimore city.  Whatever help they can get, is welcome if you ask me.

  • Barnadine_the_Pirate

    I think all local school districts should be abolished. All school systems should be entirely state-funded with regional management. Under the current

    (If we made the school administrative regions conterminous with our laughable Congressional districts, angry parents would force an end to gerrymandering overnight).

  • Rocky_Ground

    Oy vey, Matthew. I suppose you’re kidding, but just in case: The fact is that city funds have NOT paid for the bulk of school construction costs. The state pays for most of that, with a required match from the city. The state funds flowing to the city have NOT been adequate to meet the needs here and, unlike in some richer places, the city simply doesn’t have extra money for school repairs and construction.
    Has the city wasted money? Sure. But surely the waste would not have paid for $2.4 billion in unmet construction needs in the schools.
    In any case, take some time and learn about the proposed legislation. It does NOT ask for a handout from the state. It simply asks for a long-term commitment that the state will maintain its typical allotment for city school construction. The city (or perhaps the Maryland Stadium Authority) would use that funding and other local funds (again the city is stepping up) to float bonds to do the work NOW, rather than piecemealing it for decades.
    In other words, the city would be doing something innovative, efficient, forward-looking and cost-effective — taking advantage of low low interest rates — to meet an urgent civic need.
    And for heaven’s sake: we should discourage students from going to Annapolis to advocate for themselves? I think not.

  • Matthew Riesner

    Dear Mr Rocky…this city has built and maintained it’s own schools for over 150 years. Truth is until we open the books and examine our real fiscal state by having a city wide audit we CAN’T say that we have inadequate means to meet our schools needs. We are also asking that everyone will be on the hook for the bonds, so the politicians can give half baked contract work to their buddies and squander the money away (it’s what happens in the one party machine politics of this city). 

    Baltimore (a port city with a railroad) has turned into a city so mismanaged that it is negligent. We need to have transparency in city hall not the current climate of secrecy, obstructionism, and nepotism (such as escorting out reporters with freedom of information requests from the Sun, giving large contracts to campaign contributors such as the Grand Prix and the telephone system, removing activists, and making every PRIVATE business deal about how the city will profit from it and on top of it giving the mayor and the city council a 5th year in office).

    So, Rocky until we deal with our finances, open this city up to having a friendly business environment (not just asking what they will do for us), award truly competitive contracts, and generally improving the ethical standards of city government I don’t think the state should allow us to have this money.

    The kids are our future and we need them to see that the city has to work on itself to get what it needs…not simply get money redistributed from rich counties…

  • cwals99

    The sign above says ‘No Brainer’ as to the Baltimore City School’s building plan and that is indeed an apt description….it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this plan is only meant to hurt the public interest not help education in the city.  Connecting the city to a $2.4 billion leveraged bond from a Wall Street that just stole trillions in fraud and owes billions to the state yet in fraud penalties in what may be the shadow of an economic crash larger than the one we just had with tremendous government debt at all levels?  What part of that seems to work in people’s interest?

    Europe is struggling more than America because it was hit by two massive frauds……subprime loans like the US and sovereign debt like Wall Street is trying to do in the US now.  The sovereign debt fraud started with Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank working with the politicians in the finance ministries of these nations to hide their current sovereign debt with complex financial instruments which is fraud.  Then these countries took on more and more debt all while having a development bonanza.  They all knew these economies would implode just as they did here in the US with the subprime loan fraud and that was towards what they were working.  The goal was to shed all social welfare programs and to privatize the European sector…….just as they are doing here.  We now here of the enormity of the sovereign debt and we are watching as the TROIKA looks to public assets to replace the money stolen in fraud and taken to offshore accounts by the banks.  THIS WAS WHAT THE SOVEREIGN DEBT FRAUD DID TO EUROPE.

    That is exactly what is happening in the US as these pols are adding ever more public debt onto government in the form of municipal credit bonds just like this school building financial instrument.  What people do not realize is this bond market is ready to implode especially as Wall Street invested heavily in the European bailout by buying sovereign debt and now these countries are heading for possible default.  Now, the banks will lose little because as usual they simply created a financial instrument that insures them against loss, but all of the pensions, municipal bonds are left invested in this imploding market.  AS ONE FINANCIAL ANALYST SAID ‘YOU WOULD HAVE TO BE CRAZY TO ENTER THE BOND MARKET NOW’, JUST AS THE SAME PEOPLE CALLED THE US ECONOMY A ‘HOUSE OF CARDS’ A FEW YEARS BEFORE IT CRASHED.

    So, Wall Street is leveraged to $600 trillion with derivatives, they are soaked in the European crisis, we have $16 trillion in national debt and Baltimore Mayor Rawlings-Blake is trying to make Baltimore sound ‘bankrupt’.  Interest rates on bonds are at the lowest point and are heading up as sophisticated investors sell so any bond agreement now will see the interest rate grow several points…..that is millions of dollars extra paid the banks for this leveraged bond deal.  That is if the economy doesn’t crash as projected in which the City/State would default on this school building loan  and the investors buying the bonds would get the school buildings…..privately owned schools are not public folks.

  • cwals99

    I did want to end my commenting by inviting those interested in a
    lawsuit to stop this financing plan for building and demanding these
    pols fight for and get monies already owed the city from the state and
    Wall Street!!

    We will seek an injunction based on malfeasance to stop this funding route and shout loudly for money already owed!!!

    • trueheart4life

      Please GO back to California!!!

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