Schools ban receipt of political materials

May 08, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

Harford County's politicians and office-seekers have been put on notice: Any political information faxed, mailed or hand-delivered to the county's 47 schools will be destroyed.

"We do not want our schools to be placed in the middle of politics," said Donald R. Morrison, schools spokesman.

The uproar started Monday when Edgewood Middle School received a fax from Ron Szczybor, who has announced he will run for the county executive's seat in November.

The fax, which was sent without a cover letter or explanation, was a copy of a "letter to the editor" printed in the Harford edition of The Sun on May 1 and in other local publications.

In a telephone interview, Edgewood Principal Robert L. Depuy refused to respond to questions about the fax. He referred all queries to Mr. Morrison.

Sharon Lumsden, a teacher at Edgewood Middle, said a secretary showed her the fax. Mrs. Lumsden said she immediately tore it up and threw it away because political campaigning is against school policy.

"I looked at it and realized it was a political editorial," she said.

Mr. Szczybor disagreed. "This was not a political announcement, it was a copy of a newspaper article; it was an article favorable to the teachers, and I thought they would like to see it," he said.

The fax attacked County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's management of the county's finances, particularly her funding of the school system.

Mr. Szczybor sharply criticized Mrs. Rehrmann's fiscal 1995 budget, which starts July 1, because he said it includes only $96.4 million for schools. This is a $9 million increase over this fiscal year.

Mr. Szczybor, who is a member of the County Council's Budget Advisory Board, said the school system should have received more money. Board members are appointed by the County Council and can only make suggestions about the budget.

Mrs. Rehrmann's proposed operating budget, of $175 million, must be approved by the County Council.

Mr. Szczybor said one of his campaign volunteers, William O'Malley, called the schools and asked them for their fax number and then sent out the information.

"The real crime here is that in this day and age only 13 of the 47 public schools have fax machines," Mr. Szczybor said.

Mr. Morrison said the decision to discard the faxes was based on policy and not politics. He said he sent out a computer message to the schools directing them to destroy any unauthorized faxes or mailings.

"It is our policy that only those publications, including faxes, must be approved by the school system before they can be posted, circulated or placed in a teacher's mailbox," he said.

He said the school system would post faxes from County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's office and other governmental offices but only if they contained school information, such as public hearings on the school system's budget.

Mr. Szczybor, who has not filed to run, said prohibiting his faxes in county schools was an "abuse of power" by the Rehrmann administration.

"This is another attempt by the Rehrmann administration to censor everything I do, Mr. Szczybor said. "It's a disgrace."

County Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson also said the ban was unfair.

"If the individual schools want to throw away faxes, that's fine. But it should be their decision -- not someone else's," he said

George Harrison, spokesman for the county administration, said the county executive did not tell the school system what to do.

Mr. Harrison said the county got a phone call Monday from Edgewood Middle School asking whether a "Bill O'Malley" worked for the county executive.

Mr. Harrison and Mr. Morrison said Edgewood Middle's office staff thought the fax had come from Mrs. Rehrmann because Mr. O'Malley said he represented the county executive.

Mr. Szczybor said Mr. O'Malley never represented himself as working for Mrs. Rehrmann.

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