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Md. House Passes Plan To Allow City Of Baltimore To Get $1B In Bonds To Build, Fix Up Schools

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A plan to overhaul dozens of crumbling schools in the city of Baltimore and construct better ones advanced Friday when the Maryland House of Delegates passed a major funding plan for the initiative.

The House passed the bill by a 107-30 vote. It now moves to the state Senate for consideration.

The legislation would allow the city to issue about $1 billion in bonds to build as many as 15 new schools and renovate up to 40. The bonds would be made possible by funding from the state, the city and the city school system. They would contribute $20 million a year each for 30 years.

State money would come from the lottery beginning in fiscal year 2015. The city money would come from a bottle tax and gambling revenue, as well as retiree health savings.

Andres A. Alonso, chief executive officer of Baltimore’s public schools, was elated by the action and said that Baltimore students deserved schools with better infrastructure.

“The average age of our schools is about 40 years old,” Alonso said. “Nearly half have no air conditioning. In some places, the schools’ have windows that have become so brown with age that they are completely opaque. The last school built from scratch in the city was built in the late 1990s.”

The vote fell mostly along party lines, with 96 Democrats and 11 Republicans voting in favor of the measure. Thirty Republicans voted against the bill.

“We need to help city schools, but we don’t need to do it with this bill,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, a Republican.

Supporters countered by noting that the existing schools cannot meet the demands of Baltimore students who need 21st century science and computer labs.

“This is for our kids. We need to put good schools out there for our kids,” said Delegate Curt Anderson, a Baltimore City Democrat.

The Maryland Stadium Authority would oversee the financing under the measure. The bill requires a four-way memorandum of understanding between the stadium authority, the city, the school system and the Interagency Committee on School Construction. The stadium authority would not be able to issue bonds until the memorandum of understanding is approved by the Board of Public Works, which includes the governor, the comptroller and the treasurer. Each bond issuance also would have to be approved by the board.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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