Alarmed Dundalk defends its college Baltimore Co. Council considering merging school with Essex

April 01, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Politicians are huddling. Voice mail messages are buzzing. Counteroffensives are being plotted as Dundalk rises to the defense of its community college.

Stout-hearted Dundalk is on alert that the Baltimore County Council -- critical of how some of the $79 million is spent on the county's three community colleges -- is considering merging Dundalk into the nearby campus at Essex.

The Dundalk college, born in 1971 out of political power and the desire for a cultural and educational hub, now faces the fiscal realities of the '90s. Council members see the Essex and Dundalk campuses six miles apart, a preponderence of part-time students and critical needs for the education dollar elsewhere in the county.

Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz and Councilman Vincent J. Gardina are leading discussions with their colleagues about how the colleges -- which include Catonsville Community College -- will fare when the county's annual budget process begins next month.

"I'd like to challenge them as if they were a private business," said Mr. Kamenetz, a Pikesville Democrat. "Would a private business maintain all the facilities they currently maintain?"

Mr. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat who was council chairman last year, said, "At one time, the community colleges helped folks in blue-collar areas take that first step toward a bachelor's degree. Now we see 60 percent of the system's 55,045 students are part time, with lots of questionable courses.

"And lots of people have the impression," Mr. Gardina said, "that the new chancellor [Daniel J. LaVista] is in an ivory tower, that he has been excessive in taking care of himself and those close to him."

Bruce J. Challiou, vice president of the community colleges' board of trustees, said that while the council cannot direct the system how to spend its budget, the council's wishes carry considerable weight.

"They can cut our purse strings, it's that simple," said Mr. Challiou. "I don't know how much they want, but I don't think they want to hurt the system. They need to tell us what they'd like to see."

Connie DeJuliis, a former Dundalk resident and former member of the board of trustees, said she fears that losing Dundalk Community College would be a severe psychological blow to a community that has suffered the loss of industry and jobs over the last two decades.

"I'm deeply concerned about the future of our community college," said Mrs. DeJuliis, the Democratic nominee for the area's 2nd District congressional Dr. . "The chancellor will not comment on what we read in the paper," said Deborah Hudson, a spokeswoman for the system. "If they [councilmen] had thoughts, they would have come up in the public meeting with the chancellor. It wasn't said."

Dr. LaVista was hired by the board of trustees in June to cut spending and consolidate programs and services in a systemwide reorganization. Officials, faculty and others have criticized his $130,000 annual salary and perks like a $2,500 monthly housing allowance and a $30,000 Buick.

He widened the scope of a buyout plan for senior faculty members and administrators in January amid criticism of a plan limited to 50 employees, which raised the prospect of applicants standing in line all night to assure their chances. He also did an about-face on putting computers purchased with public funds in the homes of eight trustees.

Defenders say the chancellor is projecting savings of $2.4 million to $3.3 million by fiscal year 1998 and has been active in fostering ties with It would be a struggle to be merged into Essex. It's not a pleasant thought."

Public officials from Dundalk said they will resist any attempt to merge the two campuses, although the Dundalk school, built on the site of an old Army motor pool, has received the lowest slice of the budget and has the fewest students.

According to the state Higher Education Commission, the annual budget for Essex is more than double the $14 million Dundalk receives; Essex has 536 full- and part-time faculty, and Dundalk 230.

This year, Dundalk has 505 full-time students and 2,484 part-timers. Essex has 8,000 full-time and 15,150 part-time students.

"The hue and cry from the public will be great, but I don't think the council will close Dundalk," said Dundalk's veteran state Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. He summoned the county legislative delegation in Annapolis last week after learning about the council's discussion. A majority of the legislators voted against any merger.

"I can't visualize anything but the strongest resistance," said Thomas Toporovich, secretary to the County Council under five administrations and the unofficial "mayor of Dundalk."

"When the reorganization was explained to us, the board of trustees promised us that the Dundalk school would not be bothered," Mr. Toporovich said.

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