Money for Older Schools

February 03, 1994

There is a truism about the rapid development of any community: New neighborhoods get a lot of attention, in the form of new roads and schools. And, as a consequence, those who live in older communities often feel neglected.

Del. Virginia M. Thomas, D-13A, is proposing a way to deal more equitably with old and new neighborhoods by directing certain tax revenues to older schools in need of renovations and new equipment. Her intentions are commendable.

Specifically, Delegate Thomas wants the state legislature to allow the county to direct funds from a proposed tax on parking to older schools. The parking spaces in question are any in the county that would be within a certain distance of the proposed Redskins stadium in Laurel, if that project comes to fruition. Del. Martin G. Madden, R-13B, is sponsor of the tax measure, but he PTC wants the revenue to be used to offset the costs of roads and other public works projects.

Perhaps a compromise can be reached. It wouldn't be the first time revenues from specific taxes were divvied up for predetermined purposes. A portion of proceeds from the county's 5 percent hotel tax is directed toward tourism. All of the $12 million from county transfer taxes goes to new school construction, parks and recreational facilities, agricultural preservation, fire and rescue, as well as community development. Excise tax revenues, which totaled $5 million last year, are already earmarked for roads.

Ms. Thomas is also considering legislation to allow excise tax revenues to be used for older schools. She is trying to solve one of the county's most vexing problems -- one that the Board of Education refuses to confront. Decaying facilities with inadequate equipment are by definition inferior. The emphasis on building new schools too often comes at the neglect of older buildings. The inequity fuels the notion that some schools -- particularly if they are new -- are better than others. This exacerbates attempts to redraw school boundaries and deprives some children of the environment and resources available to their peers in older communities.

The parking tax may not do much to solve this problem -- it doesn't raise enough money -- but Ms. Thomas is throwing a spotlight on an important matter too long ignored.

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