Education hot topic on legislative agenda Business assistance also among issues before delegation

November 27, 1995|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The county's delegation to the General Assembly will begin considering a local agenda Wednesday night that contains more legislation than ever -- and some of the most controversial.

The 20 bills that will come up in the first of two public hearings at the county office building include bills covering business, education, local government and social issues.

"We used to take care of everything in one meeting," said House Minority Leader Robert L. Kittleman, the senior member of the 11-member delegation. "Now we need at least two."

Among bills that could prove contentious are four dealing with the Board of Education.

Ellicott City Republican Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the delegation chairman, and fellow Republican Christopher J. McCabe, his state Senate counterpart, are concerned that school expenditures now take about 60 percent of the county budget.

"Over the last five years, government on the local level has been making substantial adaptations in very difficult fiscal times," Mr. Flanagan said. "I don't see that happening with the [school] board. The cost [of providing education in the public schools] continues to increase dramatically, but the quality of education has not improved."

Mr. Flanagan has proposed a bill that would let County Council auditors monitor the school board the same way they check on the administration.

Mr. McCabe said the "accountability bill" is needed because cutbacks in federal funding will "inevitably impact Maryland and filter to the county" and the board "will have to better with less."

School board Chairwoman Susan J. Cook bristled at the perception that the quality of education has not improved as costs have increased. The county's test scores on national and state exams -- already the best in the state -- have been going up each year, she said.

"We have close to 38,000 students," she said.

"You can't educate them cheaply and do it well."

Ms. Cook said the county's population growth -- not school board extravagance -- is causing costs to go up each year.

The board voted 4-0 last week, with member Stephen C. Bounds abstaining, to oppose Mr. Flanagan's bill.

The board also voted 5-0 to oppose two other bills before the delegation: election of board members by council district rather than at-large, and a ban on year-round schooling until a majority of voters agrees to it in a referendum.

On the other hand, the board is seeking delegation support for a bill to increase members' annual salaries from $6,000 to $12,000.

Other issues likely to be debated are a curfew bill proposed by Del. Frank S. Turner, a Columbia Democrat, and several business initiatives sought by County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

Mr. Turner's bill would impose a weekday curfew at 11 p.m. and a weekend curfew at midnight for those under 17 and would fine parents of young people who violate the curfew.

State Sen. Martin J. Madden of Clarksville and Mr. Kittleman say they are unlikely to support the curfew bill unless police and residents testify that it is necessary.

The two Republicans are also looking askance at Mr. Ecker's proposals to provide incentives and tax breaks to lure businesses to the county and encourage others to expand.

"Creating a friendly business climate [in Howard] is very much on everybody's agenda," said Mr. Madden, adding that using incentives and tax breaks to do so is "a very gray area."

"Having good schools and services is what will attract and keep people," he said.

Bills under study by Howard legislators

Business:

* Blue laws: Repeal a law barring the sale of cars on Sundays in Howard County. (Administration bill.)

* Cigarette machines: Allow the county to ban cigarette machines in places frequented by minors. (Sponsor: Del. Shane Pendergrass, D-13A).

* Economic Development Authority: Increase the board of directors to 13 from nine and the quorum to seven from five. (Administration bill.)

* Incentives: Let county government establish an incentive fund for economic development (Administration bill.)

* Property tax credits: Authorize property tax credits to businesses that add 12 or more full-time employees. (Administration bill.)

Education:

* Audits: Allow the Howard County Council to audit the Board of Education. (Sponsor: Del. Robert L. Flanagan, R-14B.)

* *District elections: Require school board members to be elected from a County Council district rather than at large. (Sponsor: Del. Frank S. Turner, D-13A.)

* Salaries: Raise the annual salaries of school board members from $6,000 to $12,000 and the annual salary of the chairman from $6,800 to $14,000 (Sponsor: delegation chairman at the request of the Board of Education).

* Howard Community College Board of Trustees: Require five of bTC seven members to be residents of Howard County throughout the term of their appointment (Sponsor: Sen. Martin J. Madden, R-13).

* Year-round schooling: Prohibit the school board from implementing year-round schooling unless approved by the voters in a countywide referendum. (Sponsor: Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, R-14).

Government:

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