Baltimore County's Capital Idea

March 22, 1994

In recent years, tales of porous roofs, leaky plumbing and Sputnik-era science labs at Baltimore County schools have become all too familiar to students, parents and educators throughout the jurisdiction.

To make the situation worse, the school system's enrollment has been booming, pushing two-thirds of county elementary schools and one-fourth of middle and high schools above capacity. Overcrowding has gotten so bad that residential development is forbidden in communities near 17 schools where student rolls are at least 20 percent above their prescribed limits.

But relief could be forthcoming if elected officials approve the county planning board's recommendation that a record $34.8 million be spent next year for school construction and maintenance. The funds would come from a 1992 bond authorization, most of which has not yet been spent.

More than a third of the proposed amount would be used to install 200-seat modular additions at 10 elementary schools by January 1996. The modulars, which would be attached to the main structures and could later be moved to wherever they might be needed, would help reduce the number of school communities on the moratorium list to about six. They also would get the county through its worst years of overcrowding (estimated to last until about 2001), and possibly continue in operation for another decade or more.

County Executive Roger Hayden has been reluctant to touch the bulk of the bond money for fear of threatening the subdivision's Triple-A bond rating. But what good is the Triple-A rating if the physical condition of the county's school system is going to pot? Now Mr. Hayden has made it known that education will be BTC among his top priorities this election year. Whether inspired by the severity of the school system's problems or by campaign-season pressures, or both, Mr. Hayden would do the right thing by giving his assent to the planning board proposal -- as would the County Council by echoing with its approval.

When the council passed the construction moratorium, it was with the acknowledgment that the county government would have to take a guiding role in solving the overcrowding problem. Here is the chance for the county's elected officials to step up to that task. They should commit to the kind of action that would indicate they are finally willing and able, in this important matter, to look after their own.

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