After weeks of controversy over school system maintenance and the closing of Deer Park Elementary, the Baltimore County Council suggested a government takeover of construction and upkeep from the school board yesterday.
The idea -- brought up during and after a review of the $642 million education budget -- is in line with other efforts by elected officials to get more control over school spending and noneducational decisions.
School officials were not hostile to the idea, despite having just hired former county Public Works Director Gene L. Neff to administer school facilities.
"Have you considered transferring responsibility for buildings to the county?" Towson Republican Douglas B. Riley asked Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione.
"Do they want to do it?" Dr. Marchione asked.
"This council wants you to do it," chimed in Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat.
"I'd like to talk about it and what the implications are. I'm willing to discuss it," Dr. Marchione said.
Whether the exchange represents a serious proposal will
depend on the reaction of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, who said later that he had not heard the idea before but is willing to discuss it.
"If it's efficient and the right thing to do, we'll look at it. I would not mind looking at it," he said before leaving to treat the council members to an Orioles baseball game.
Dr. Marchione apologized to the council for recent school construction and maintenance problems, including the debacle at Randallstown's Deer Park, which was closed because of air-quality problems a year and half after a $1.5 million renovation, and delay in picking a site for a new Sparks Elementary.
That north county school burned nearly to the ground in January 1995, and no site for a new building has been announced.
Dr. Marchione said permission for new tests for septic systems on a 50-acre site at Interstate 83 and Belfast Road was received yesterday, but he vowed to move quickly to another site if there are further delays.
"I'm very frustrated about that," he said about Sparks. "We can't have this delay anymore."
Before Mr. Riley made his suggestion, Chairman Kamenetz applauded Dr. Marchione's choice of Mr. Neff, who was recommended for the facilities post by school board President Calvin D. Disney as a replacement for Faith C. Hermann, a former teacher and principal.
"I applaud your appointment of a well-qualified individual," Mr. Kamenetz said after the superintendent promised, "You're going see a revamped department of construction and facilities."
Mr. Kamenetz then questioned whether former teachers should be in highly technical administrative jobs. "Do we want teachers to be plumbers?" he asked, wondering aloud whether good teachers shouldn't be rewarded for staying in the classroom instead of being forced to seek administrative jobs as the only avenue for advancement.
Other members agreed with councilmen Kamenetz and Riley about the county taking over school construction. But school board lobbyist George P. Poff Jr. cautioned that other counties have debated and decided against the move because elected officials would not be insulated from public criticism about the lack of new or properly maintained buildings.
Several members said later, however, that they believe school officials have shirked building maintenance for decades, and that the change wouldn't be too expensive because the county merely would take over managing the buildings, using the same employees.
Pub Date: 5/04/96