Tax-cap Letter Infuriates Lorton Move Sparks Call For Investigation

November 02, 1990|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

Supporters of a county tax cap are calling for an investigation into School Superintendent Larry L. Lorton's decision to send a letter home with students arguing against a ballot question limiting property tax growth.

Lorton's two-page letter was sent home with county schoolchildren Wednesday.

Robert Schaeffer, president of Anne Arundel Taxpayers for Responsive Government, said yesterday that Lorton should be held accountable for the use of school money spent to fight a political issue -- one that would limit property tax revenue growth to 4.5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

"I called the county attorney because I felt it ought to be investigated," Schaeffer said. "It's a misappropriation of county funds.

Lorton said it was not a political thing, but his letter clearly said to vote against Question D. If that's not political, I don't know what is.

"I am publicly calling for the county to look into it," he said. "But they are ducking this thing."

While saying Schaeffer has every right to question Lorton's actions, deputy county attorney David Plymyer said the county would not be the appropriate agency to investigate.

"If there is a concern, it needs to be taken up with the Board of Education or state superintendent of schools," he said. "The board is an agency of the state, not the county. Even though the county has some budget control, making legal judgments is something that is not appropriate for the county to do."

Plymyer denied his office was "ducking the issue," but rather redirecting complaints to the proper agencies.

"Mr. Schaeffer needs to get it straight that he's not being ignored," he said. "If he wants to file a complaint, I recommend he contact the school board or state superintendent.

"My personal opinion is that if (Lorton) feels that the matter is important and will affect schools, then I think it is part of his role (to send the letter)," Plymyer added. "Any final opinion about whether that is correct would be made by the state."

County school board President Nancy Gist said that she viewed Lorton's actions as his interpretation of what the measure could mean to schools and that he was within his duty as superintendent to make that known.

Lorton delivered a similar message to members of the countywide Citizens Advisory Committee at Windsor Farm Elementary last week, warning that a tax cap would mean increased class sizes, layoffs and elimination of extracurricular programs.

"I think that Lorton's position is that it was not political, but he was interpreting the current environment and the impact on programs he has to oversee," Gist said. "These are areas he may well have to address."

Lorton was away at a conference all day yesterday and was not able to comment.

James Cabezas, chief investigator for the state special prosecutor's office, said his office could investigate if a complaint was filed.

"We have not received a complaint," he said. "Once it came in here, we would have to determine if there was a violation of the election laws."

While board policies prohibit the use of students for political activity, school budget officer Jack White pointed out another board policy "that requires a superintendent to do everything possible to assure adequate funding for public schools."

"I don't look at Question D as a political question," he said. "Politics involves running for office. My interpretation is that he was making a statement about something that may impair the ability of the school system to function. I feel he is just doing his job."

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