Reading, 'riting and rivalry A house divided?: In Annapolis and beyond, no trust between government and educators.

March 14, 1996

RELATIONS BETWEEN Maryland's local governments and its school systems are in a deep trough. County executives view school administrators as spendthrifts who fail to acknowledge the new economic realities. School boards, meanwhile, see their role as the defenders of school children, period. That tension has always been inherent in a state of school systems that don't have their own taxing authority, but rarely has it become so bitter as today.

In Howard County, where good schools have flowered alongside suburban growth over the past quarter-century, Executive Charles I. Ecker is threatening to fund the schools even below state-required levels. Meanwhile, Anne Arundel County Executive John Gary is under fire on education issues ranging from the budget to class size to redistricting; the county teachers' union pillories his educational philosophy as "stack 'em deep and teach 'em cheap." Even in Baltimore City, where the mayor has the unique power to select the Board of Education and superintendent, there is deep division over the direction of the beleaguered school system.

All this distrust is now manifesting itself in the state capital. A House of Delegates' committee, by a resounding 21-1 vote, emasculated a bill pushed by the Maryland Association of Counties that threatened to withhold school money if it wasn't spent as the counties wanted. Far from dead, however, the legislation is in the Senate, where a dormant proposal to require the schools to live by their budgets, as adopted, may come back to life. We always thought that particular proposal made sense. We fail to understand why school systems should fear this if, as the Maryland Association of Boards of Education contends, they rarely shuffle money to pet projects behind the scenes.

Whatever comes out of Annapolis, MACO and MABE, the trade groups for the counties and school boards, ought to arrange a joint summit to forge some understanding between their camps. State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick also should use her bully pulpit to bridge this strife. The division between schools and government over money is long-standing, and not without purpose, but the conditions in suburban Maryland these days of stagnant property values amid growing enrollments is a new rub that must be addressed.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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