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January 25, 2012

Updated: Alonso's billion-dollar borrowing pitch

Updated on Monday, Jan. 30: One of the biggest questions that emerged from Alonso's recent pitch to allow the school system to borrow billions for school construction, was whether or not Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was on board.

I thought I'd share this story from Friday, when Alonso and the mayor went to talk budgetary matters in Annapolis, where our State House Reporter Michael Dresser asked whether she was on board with the plan.

The mayor, who rolled out a proposal in November that would see a 140% increase in what the City is currently contributing to school construction and renovation, said Friday that the city and the school system were still "ironing out details," on how to fund the massive overhaul of the school system's infrastructure. She added, however, that, "we have the same mutual goal in mind."

According to the story, the mayor remained noncommittal to Alonso's plan to borrow $1.3 billion--six times more the district's borrowing authority-- for the needed improvements. And it's not surprising, since it's a plan that relies on paying off debt with more debt.

And according to the story, the mayor, who has outlined a more limited plan to float $300 million in bonds backed by new city revenues, would not say how close the city and school system are to reaching common ground on an approach.

"It depends on the day of the week it is. Some days we're closer than others," Rawlings-Blake said.

Asked whether Alonso had gone public with his plan too soon when he outlined it Tuesday for the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, the mayor sidestepped the question.

"Dr. Alonso is aggressive when it comes to reforming the school system," she said. "I am not going to second-guess his strategy.

You can read our editorial board's take on Alonso's strategy by clicking here. 

Original/Amended Posting:  

With the support of City council President Bernard "Jack" Young, students and education advocates, Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso headed to Annapolis on Tuesday to make his pitch to state lawmakers for unprecedented borrowing authority, and a committed stream of funding that would allow sweeping facility upgrades to the city's dilapidated school infrastructure.

According to a story today by our City Hall Reporter Julie Scharper, Alonso--who rarely makes a showing in Annapolis--proposed to the Senate's Budget and Taxation committee that the school system be allowed to borrow $1.2 billion— six times more than the district's current bonding authority. The schools chief also asked that legislators commit at least $32 million a year to school construction.

 Scharper points out, "the plan hinges on financial commitments from the state and an increase in the city's bottle tax — both of which could prove tough sells," for instance the controversial bottle tax that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will seek this year.

But, Alonso seems to have trumped City Hall in proposing a plan that would immediately address the $1.2 billion in need found in a groundbreaking study by the ACLU of Maryland in 2010.

In the last year, Alonso has been working with the mayor's administration to find a way that the system could not just chip away at the needs of the system's infrastructure, but launch a large-scale attack on the system's distressed infrastructure.

The mayor convened a task force that was to explore alternative financing options and release a report. That report has yet to be released, but many of its goals are reflected in her plan from November.

While Alonso's borrowing plan relies on revenue streams promised from the mayor, the mayor's spokesman said yesterday that, "there are a number of issues that haven't been resolved yet and must be resolved before we present the plan and provide additional details."

But Alonso, who has built momentum and support for his plan to close schools in order to fix others, seems to have it figured out:"The source of the dollars is a practical and political issue," he said. "Banks won't care as long as we meet our obligation."

Alonso's pitch marked a milestone for the ACLU's campaign. The organization not only figured the $1.2 billion need, but also researched solutions used in other states to address it. Alonso drew from a model the ACLU proposed from South Carolina, which would require a nonprofit or other entity to float the bonds on behalf of the school system.

The ACLU's campaign has has spurred a city-wide coalition of education advocacy groups, called Transform Baltimore,  that are vowing to keep the city's vision for state-of-the-art school facilities at the forefront of city and state leaders' agendas.

Stay tuned. 

Posted by Erica Green at 11:45 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City


"But Alonso, who has built momentum and support for his plan to close schools in order to fix others..."

which schools is Alonso trying to close?

which schools will close next year?

I wrote the story about that plan in October, and he didn't say which ones. Still hasn't.
Apparently, a report that takes stock of all the school buildings, due in Feb. or March, will guide the decisions.

Billion-Dollar Borrowing Include Facilities

Build a Sports and Learning Complex for the students in Baltimore City.

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