Vote On School Accountability Resolution Angers Parents

February 06, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

Angry parents and tax rebels summed up Monday's County Council meeting in one word: politics.

Against the wishes of virtually all who spoke during a 2 -hour public hearing, a divided and contentious council voted down a resolution demanding more fiscal accountability fromthe local school board.

"They have put politics before responsibility," said Robert Schaeffer, president of the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association. "It's pathetic."

The resolution -- sponsored by council members Diane R. Evans, R-Arnold; Carl G. "Dutch" Holland, R-Pasadena; and George F. Bachman, D-Linthicum --failed by a 3-to-3 vote, with Council Chairwoman Virginia P. Clagett, D-West River, abstaining.

Clagett said she supported the concept of the resolution but objected to its "tone."

Hours before Monday's meeting, Clagett and council members Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn; Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis; and David G. Boschert,D-Crownsville, drafted their own resolution creating a committee to oversee school board spending reforms.

This resolution was unanimously approved after the council voted down the first measure.

The first resolution urged council members to deny the school board extramoney until it begins spending reforms that do not affect services to students. Despite its failure, Holland and Evans said they were happy to have instigated debate on the school board budget issue. The second resolution never would have been drafted without the first, theysaid.

"Win or lose, we have won," Holland said. "For the first time in a number of years, this council is going to take a good hard look at the education budget. We'll have no more open-ended education budgets."

The school board historically has asked the council for -- and received -- a fourth-quarter transfer of money from one school category to another. This year the board, which has a $330 million budget, faces an $8 million deficit.

Parents from Shady Side to Hanover told the council Monday that they are perplexed about where theirtax dollars are going and want the school board made more accountable.

"You never get any answers to anything" from the school board, said Lily Mali of Arnold, who has children at Belvedere Elementary.

Mali said her third-grader recently told her she'd have no more reading homework because her school was out of paper. The school windowsneed repair so badly that rain and snow sometimes fall in the classroom. And the childrens' restrooms have no doors on the stalls.

"Where is the money going? It's not going to the kids," Mali said.

Schaeffer accused school Superintendent Larry Lorton of using "devious and cruel" tactics to extract more money from the council, such as lowering thermostats and canceling students' after-school activities.

School officials did not attend the hearing to answer the charges.

Lamb, a former school board representative, defended board membersas volunteers who "work their tails off" and who have asked for fourth-quarter transfers because the council wanted it that way.

"We reduced the amount of money in their budget feeling we could make it up," Lamb said. "That was the way we did business."

After the meeting, some citizens angrily engaged Lamb and other council members, charging them with knuckling under to political pressure from the schoolboard.

"Something's going on beyond that resolution," said Renee Whitmire, PTO president at Harmans Elementary.

"Since it was a non-binding document," Whitmire added, "I have not the foggiest idea whythey didn't pass it."

Parents said they won't be satisfied with the new committee to study school spending unless it includes PTA representatives. The resolution calls for three representatives each of the County Council and school board and one representative each of thecounty executive and auditor.

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