Gary blames Sophocleus for overcrowding in county's schools

October 07, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers and John A. Morris | Carol L. Bowers and John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writers

State Del. John G. Gary, the Republican nominee for county executive, blamed the overcrowding of the county's classrooms on his Democratic opponent yesterday.

The county did not build enough schools during the eight years, from 1983 to 1990, that state Del. Theodore J. Sophocleus served on the County Council, Mr. Gary said during a news conference in Glen Burnie.

During those years, the local government's budget doubled in size, yet the county only spent $15 million a year building classrooms, he said. By contrast, the administration of Robert R. Neall has spent about $30 million a year on school construction since that time.

Mr. Sophocleus did not dispute the numbers, but argued that planning for the schools built since 1990 began in the last four years he was on the council.

"Mr. Gary is living in a delusionary world," Mr. Sophocleus said in a telephone interview. "You've got to plan them first and then move forward and build them."

Mr. Gary outlined his plans for education and school construction from a spot across the street from Southgate Elementary School, which his now-grown children attended.

"We will be playing catch-up for the next decade because during the 1980s our local government didn't have an education plan for the future," he said.

Mr. Gary promised he would:

* Spend more than $38 million to build new classrooms and renovate older ones.

Earlier this week, the county school board passed a $36.6 million construction budget that includes both state and county money, and school administrators say they need more, noting they have a $60 million backlog for repairs and renovations.

* Examine ways to eliminate services duplicated by the schools and county government, such as vehicle maintenance. Taking over the schools' garage could save $10 million that could be plowed back into instruction or building maintenance, Mr. Gary said.

* Create old-fashioned detention halls, eliminating at-home suspensions. Mr. Gary criticized the board for its indecision in adopting a strong discipline policy.

* Allow the county executive, instead of the governor, to appoint school board members and let the council remove board members. Mr. Sophocleus supports the current appointment process.

* Press the school board to lock in its newest redistricting plan for at least five years. Until now, redistricting has been done annually as needed, or when a new school is built.

Mr. Gary also said that he plans to hire annually 40 new teachers, 20 police officers, 10 firefighters and personnel to staff an additional library or senior center. He would pay for the new hires, and annual pay raises of 2 percent to 4 percent, with $30 million in new revenues generated by county growth each year. He said his figures are based on an anticipated 4 percent annual growth in the economy.

Mr. Sophocleus criticized Mr. Gary for "pandering" to voters.

"It sounds to me that he hasn't left anybody out. And he says I can't say no," said Mr. Sophocleus. "The irony is that I haven't promised anybody anything."

In position papers, Mr. Sophocleus has pledged to hire 49 new police officers and an environmental ombudsman and to plant 1 million trees during his term.

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