Merger possible for two colleges Balto. Co. to consider consolidating Essex and Dundalk schools

March 27, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

A month before they tackle the annual budget, members of the Baltimore County Council are examining consolidating two of the county's three community colleges and moving the system's headquarters from an expensive suite of offices in Towson.

"We are talking about consolidating Essex and Dundalk because they are so close together and a lot of duplicative effort goes on at those Eastside schools," said Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a 5th District Democrat.

And, he said, "We are looking at the chancellor's corps he has hired and the high lease rate in their Towson office. We don't buy his argument that they have to be away from the campuses to avoid the appearance of favoritism."

Those comments came after council members met with Daniel J. LaVista, who became chancellor of the schools in June and has been criticized on several fronts, including the new offices and a botched employee buyout plan. Soon after he assumed leadership of the schools at Essex, Dundalk and Catonsville, he moved into offices that cost $80,000 a year to rent, spent $72,000 on remodeling and more on new furnishings.

Responding to the comments, system spokeswoman Deborah Hudson said, "We aren't going to communicate with the County Council via speculation or suggestions from individuals because this hasn't been brought up with the chancellor."

Earlier, Dr. LaVista had told the council that his planned restructuring of Maryland's largest community college system will save an estimated $2.4 million to $3.3 million by fiscal 1998. Included in those savings, he said, will be approximately $1 million from the buyout offered to about 400 eligible faculty members and administrative staffers.

The schools enroll 55,045 students -- more than half of them noncredit students.

The council's early thinking on budget issues was revealed after a work session with Dr. LaVista, board of trustees President Ronald G. Abe and Bruce J. Challiou, board vice president.

Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, clearly unhappy with the financial direction of the system, said, "There is a perceived layer of bureaucracy there and I wonder about the efficiency of the Towson office. We don't want to micro-manage but we must examine the wisdom of how they spend it."

Mr. Kamenetz, a 2nd District Democrat who will direct the council's consideration of the community colleges' budget, said, have a lot more questions but I want to reserve judgment until our auditors finish their look at the community colleges."

After the meeting, Dr. LaVista said concerns of the council members merely reflect the annual give-and-take every agency must endure at budget time.

While the council cannot directly make the moves suggested by Mr. Gardina, budgeting places considerable power in their suggestions. The county provides nearly 40 percent of the system's operating budget, which was $79 million this year; the rest comes from tuition and state funding.

Essex and Dundalk are no more than six miles apart in a once-thriving blue-collar territory. After Essex opened in 1957 -- when 18 Democratic clubs gave the Eastside sway in Annapolis -- political envy helped give birth to the Dundalk school in 1971.

Dr. LaVista, who is paid an annual salary of $130,000 and numerous perks, was hired by the board in June to cut costs and consolidate academic programs and administrative services.

From the outset, he faced major hurdles with dwindling state and county support and decreasing enrollment.

He instituted a tuition increase for next year to offset a $2.8 million loss in tuition revenue. He is looking to privatize some services that might mean 140 system workers being "dislocated" and has offered an employee buyout.

That buyout proved to be one of his most unpopular moves.

As conceived and approved by the chancellor, eligible employees might have had to stand in line for more than six hours -- beginning a half-hour after midnight -- to secure one of the 50 buyout slots. But protests from state and county officials and college employees forced the chancellor to cancel the plan. He later publicly apologized.

Pub Date: 3/27/96

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