Reining in the School System

August 31, 1995

The discovery that Anne Arundel school administrators have been defying the state and the county by designing bigger buildings than necessary shows what's wrong with the relationship between our educators and the government. There's no coordination.

State legislators, the county executive and the County Council are supposed to decide how to use tax money wisely. But school officials ignore their decisions.

The school system's insistence on constructing buildings that exceed student population projections makes an already impossible situation worse. There are now 13,700 empty seats in county schools, most of them in the wrong places. Other schools, meanwhile, are packed like sardine cans.

Faced with reductions in state aid and a local property tax cap, the school system ought to be looking at ways to use as many of those seats as possible. Instead, it's creating more empty seats in areas that don't need them.

Last week, school administrators (not the school board, which, oddly enough, says it didn't know about the overbuilding) admitted that two new North County middle schools, Andover and Brooklyn Park, will have a combined capacity of 3,215 pupils instead of 1,800, as state and local legislators had intended. Not only does that mean 1,400 extra seats in North County alone, but bTC it likely means less school construction money for areas that really need it; the state allocates money for school projects partly on the availability of seats countywide.

For all that the school system cherishes its autonomy, it has built a convincing case for the county assuming greater control over school spending, the single largest public expenditure. What hope is there for a coordinated plan to manage the student population when school officials quietly discard decisions made by elected leaders and the board itself?

None, unless the county and the board agree to changes, such as one proposed by County Executive John G. Gary. He wants to put school construction in the public works department, making the county responsible for delivering school projects as agreed upon. The right hand would know what the left is doing for a change, and taxpayers would know whom to hold accountable for the way school construction money is being spent.

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