Snobbish Parents Will Pay Price For Fighting Redistricting

THE OBSERVER

June 30, 1991|By Mark Guidera

Question: Is the value of your home affected by the public school district within which your property lies?

Answer: Absolutely not.

Now a tougher question: Is a "sense of community" disrupted if children must go to a school not in their neighborhood but one, say, three or four or five miles away?

Answer: Of course not. In fact, the sense of community and its boundaries, particularly for the students, likely would expand in short order.

Unfortunately, some franticand reactionary parents who oppose having their kids shifted out of crowded Bel Air schools to the Aberdeen-Edgewood area would have us believe these two myths.

The Harford school board made it clear last week that it would have nothing to do with busing kids out of crowded Bel Air area schools to schools in the Edgewood-Aberdeen areas where some class space is available. The decision came after two public hearings jammed with vocal Bel Air area parents.

No opponent came right out and said it at the meetings but the message was clear: The middle-class and wealthy homeowners around Bel Air don't want their kids attending class with kids from homes in lower-middle class and even borderline poverty neighborhoods in Edgewood and Aberdeen.

The myths of home values hurt and "loss of community" suffered are not only full of air, but their distribution is also breeding contempt among the well-heeled and the not-so-fortunate and between minorities andwhites.

And the frenzy these parents have gotten into has everyone overlooking the more compelling debate over unused class space and how many new schools Harford really needs to build in the next five years to accommodate the tidal wave of children flooding into the county's public school system -- 9,000 new students in the next six years.

Dry as they may seem, these issues need a broad public airing. The direction the county takes in its school building program -- and ensuing bond sales to afford it -- could come back to haunt these homeowners who worry about their home values dropping because little Johnny and Debbie must go to a school where the other kids' parents don'tcarry Visa Gold cards.

Let's look at some numbers: The Board of Education is looking at building 15 schools in the next six years to accommodate a projected 29 percent increase in the student population.

The $108 million construction cost is significant.

Harford seems bent on buying the farm and building all of the schools.

The school board favors the bonding approach and so does the county executive, who has mapped out a plan to borrow $63 million in the bond market over the next six years, a big share of that money earmarked for the county's 35 percent share of building the new schools.

Now, selling bonds is like using a credit card. You have to pay them back and the interest rate will assuredly make that $63 million balloon considerably.

Treasurer James M. Jewell isn't worried, saying the county's payments won't change much.

But once you build the schools, youhave to staff them with teachers, janitors, administrators. Those people become an annual cost. You must pay them and finance their benefits packages. And you have to furnish the schools and maintain them.

The school board projects needing about 600 more teachers alone inthese new schools to maintain its student/teacher ratio.

Costs like that will swell the county school system's operating budget, and that's not a cost you can go borrow at the bond market.

How will Harford afford these larger school system costs without raiding money from other county departments like police and planning and zoning?

Well, the county must start to think about taxes. Maybe higher property taxes or maybe a school tax.

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann has said, "By going to the bond market, the people who are creatinga strain on services by coming into the county can help pay for a portion of the improvements."

I disagree. The way to make people payfor the strain on the services is to tax them.

And it's that the kind of reality proposal that will get people talking about whether this county should build 15 new schools in six years.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.