Political School Decision in Arundel

June 02, 1993

The Anne Arundel County Council changed Executive Robert R. Neall's fiscal 1994 budget in many ill-advised ways. But one of the worst -- and most political -- was its decision to cut the money for a new Solley elementary school in Pasadena.

Council members killed the Solley school because Mr. Neall had set aside $2 million for it in cash -- and they were desperate to hunt up enough cash to ingratiate themselves with county employees by giving them a pay raise.

There were so desperate they are willing to risk losing $1.6 million in hotly contested state money earmarked for Solley and a five-acre site that has been donated.

So desperate that they are willing to leave Pasadena's horrendously overcrowded elementary schools without relief for another year -- even though the state considers overcrowding more critical than the equity problems in North County, where the council has decided to build a new school without state assistance.

The council's decision to build Andover Middle before remedying crowding in Pasadena schools is untenable.

The council could have relieved crowding at three Pasadena schools at a cost of only $8 million to county taxpayers. Now the donated site is in jeopardy and the state is threatening to give its aid to another county. Arundel taxpayers will foot the entire $14 million bill for Andover, and the county will have to go to the bond market to borrow more than the bond rating agencies recommend.

No one questions the importance of Andover Middle School. The North County area has gone through considerable hardship in make-do quarters since 1989, when the school board began revamping this feeder system so it would receive the same programs other areas had. Mr. Neall planned to build Andover in fiscal 1996. The council should have moved up that project one year as a sign it was serious about finishing Andover, without sacrificing Solley.

To fund Andover this year -- without a cent of state funding and risk losing state dollars for another critical project -- is irresponsible.

It's not too late to correct this. Mr. Neall says he will try to keep the state from taking back the $1.6 million while he submits a bill asking that funding be restored for Solley. The Arundel school board should work with him in pressuring the council to make this change. The county stands to lose too much if Solley is not built this year.

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