Chamber prescribes cut in school money to prevent rise in taxes

May 17, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

An article in Sunday's edition of The Howard County Sun reported incorrectly that the school board directed architect Stephen Parker to restore a third elevator to plans for the western high school.

In fact, the board returned plans to the staff with instructions to look at alternative ways to provide access to lower-level locker rooms for disabled students.

The Howard County Sun regrets the errors.

The county Chamber of Commerce wants to see the school budget cut rather than face a tax increase for education.

"We recognize that Howard County's school system is second to none, top in the state and one of the tops in the country and we want it to keep that standing," Chamber President Earl Armiger told the school board on Thursday. "But we also recognize that the private sector feels we're just about tapped out as far as taxes go."

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Armiger's request for a special cost-cutting study commission came to a school board still smarting from a County Council budget work session that preceded the board meeting. Council Chairman Paul R. Farragut told the board to find $1.1 million in cuts to its $141.6 million county aid request for 1992-1993 and report back to him.

The council is scheduled to vote June 1 on a resolution to raise the piggyback income tax from 50 percent to 52 percent of the state income tax. The measure would raise an estimated $4.4 million, which sponsor C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said he would like to use for education.

School board member Karen B. Campbell chided the business community for not getting involved earlier. "A persistent presence is much more effective than to come in after the fact and review," she said.

Armiger conceded that chamber members haven't been active in school budget discussions. "We perhaps didn't feel the need, but we can't afford to take that kind of attitude any more," he said.

Campbell and board member Susan J. Cook said they believe opportunities exist to participate without the need for a special commission. Board Chairman Deborah D. Kendig and Vice Chairman Dana F. Hanna endorsed the idea. Board member Ruth Y. Hutchinson could not be reached for comment.

Armiger brought two recommendations from a six-member chamber committee that studied the school budget: review administration policies and school construction for possible cost cuts. Administration expenses are contained in the operating budget, financed primarily by county and state taxes. School construction costs are in the capital budget, financed through bond sales, real estate transfer taxes and some state aid.

Cost-cutting measures already taken by the school board and Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, such as cuts in administrative positions, hiring freezes and a freeze on most purchases are temporary measures, Armiger said.

"It is our feeling that the school board has not been forced to go through the re-evaluation of how they spend their money the private sector has," he said.

The school board is always trying to balance cost containment against needs, Hanna responded. "It's easy to say, 'Anyone can trim 10 percent. Why, I built a house one time and cut 10 percent and it didn't make a bit of difference.' "

Hanna cited an example from Thursday's board meeting, where the board wrestled with whether to add a third elevator to the planned western high school.

Architect Stephen Parker of Grimm and Parker said the elevator near the gym had been removed from plans for the school as a cost-cutting measure. Restoring it would add about $100,000 to the $21 million construction cost.

Board member Cook pointed out that students with disabilities would be forced to go down the hall to the only other elevator serving the building's lower level to get to locker rooms, then retrace their paths to get to the gym on the upper level. The second elevator serves only the school auditorium, providing access to the stage, orchestra pit and projection booth for the disabled.

"I don't feel comfortable telling them, 'We want you to participate, but to do so you have to go down here,' " Cook said.

The board told the architect to restore the elevator to the plans.

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