by Julie Scharper for The Baltimore Sun

August 26, 2011

Candidates vying to be Baltimore's next mayor promised Thursday evening to double funding for after school programs, create 1,000 summer jobs for youth and renovate or rebuild all of the city's schools.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, former city planning director Otis Rolley and State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh vowed to support an agenda drafted by the interfaith coalition BUILD that centers on the needs of children and the city's outlying neighborhoods.

Former Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors Vice President Joseph T. "Jody" Landers did not agree to support the group's proposals, saying he would cut property tax rates before increasing city services.

The Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, co-chair of BUILD and pastor of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, urged the candidates to put the needs of young people ahead of the desires of tourists and wealthy developers.

"The last time I visited the Inner Harbor, it didn't look like a blighted neighborhood to me. The bathrooms were spotless. They never need to shut down during a heat wave. No one worries about drinking from the sink. … And yet today our schools are falling apart due to disrepair," said Connors.

About 200 people attended the forum at East Baltimore's St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, which organizers said was the nation's first African-American Catholic parish.
Rawlings-Blake joined Pugh and Rolley in pledging to double the number of youth summer jobs to 10,000.

Yet Rawlings-Blake trimmed about 2,000 jobs from Youth Works, the city's youth summer job program, last year. She said the city was able to employ more teens in the previous summer due to federal stimulus funds.

Rawlings-Blake also agreed to double funding for after-school programs to $8.4 million. She cut funding for after-school programs in the current budget, as she sought to close a $65 million shortfall in the city's $1.3 billion operating budget.

Rawlings-Blake agreed to create 55 "high-quality community centers," and detailed how she planned to build or improve 30 recreation centers. She plans to cede control of the city's 26 other rec centers to nonprofits or community groups in January, and has warned that those which are not run by a third party could be closed.

She also committed to fixing the city's schools by raising $200 million in bonds, launching a campaign to seek donations from philanthropists and create an advisory board to gather community input on fixing schools.

In November, Rawlings-Blake created a task force to draft a plan to improve the city's school buildings after a report from the American Civil Liberties Union showed that schools needed $2.8 billion in repairs. The task force's report, which was due in February, has yet to be released.

"I have a plan and I've been working on the plan with [schools chief executive officer] Andrés Alonso and the task force," she said.

Rawlings-Blake repeatedly referred to her challengers' proposals to lower property taxes — Landers, Rolley and Pugh have all vowed to lower the city's tax rate by one-third to one-half — as "reckless" and in conflict with their plans to increase youth services and improve schools.

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