Psst. . . Tell the Governor

January 28, 1992

For most of the folks in Sparks, whose children are crammed into one of four portable classrooms or getting their daily reading lessons in a nearby church, the prospect of a new school in Jacksonville is an appealing one indeed.

The Sparks Elementary School, built to accommodate 286 students, now serves 441. That situation is unacceptable to parents. So residents were relieved when, in the summer of 1990, Gov. William Donald Schaefer visited the Baltimore County school and promised to send $2.6 million in state funds to expand the school.

But it wasn't possible. County officials found that sewage facilities were inadequate, and more water and sewer lines could not be constructed without endangering the ecosystem of the Gunpowder River. In addition, the terrain is not flat and the portable classrooms now in use occupy most of the flat area, making new construction difficult.

A more sensible plan, officials decided, was to build a new school on county-owned land in nearby Jacksonville to accommodate some Sparks students. (Another school planned in the north county would serve the remainder.) The state's Interagency Committee on School Construction apparently agreed: It approved $2.6 million for the project.

But someone forgot to tell the governor. Or to explain to him that the Jacksonville project would do just as well as the Sparks expansion. So when the roster of schools for which state money was allocated listed Jacksonville Elementary rather than Sparks, the governor fumed. And in typical Schaeferesque manner, he immediately withdrew the money the state was supposed to kick in.

Obviously there was a missed communication -- or no communication at all -- between the governor and the school construction committee. But Mr. Schaefer's reflexive tantrum created a problem. The new school may not be built if the state doesn't come through with the help it promised. So, ironically, the governor may have placed in jeopardy the very people he insisted he wanted to help.

State Sen. Thomas Bromwell and County Executive Roger Hayden are scheduled to meet with Governor Schaefer today to try to explain what happened. Mr. Schaefer needs to calm down and listen closely -- and then restore the $2.6 million so the county can move forward with a badly needed new elementary school.

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