Gary gives ultimatum on funding for school Executive wants plan, price before moving

June 27, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The stakes just went up for Brooklyn Park Middle School.

Not only does County Executive John G. Gary want a definitive plan and price tag before he commits money to the project, but he also wants to know which North County elementaries will be shut to make way for it.

His ultimatum comes just as the school board tries to pry loose some of the $250,000 Gary set aside for a Brooklyn Park Middle School assessment. The money is in the budget that starts Monday.

Decade-old plans called for Andover High School and Brooklyn Park Junior-Senior High to become 900-student schools for grades six, seven and eight. All North County seventh- and eighth-graders moved into the Lindale/Brooklyn Park Middle School -- the renovated Andover building -- in January, but sixth-graders remain in elementary schools.

The planning for Brooklyn Park Middle School, which was to open in 1997 in the renovated junior-senior high building, has remained mired in controversy over size, money and scope.

Gary insists that he needs the trade-off of closing what he views as underenrolled elementaries -- probably at least two -- because he does not trust that future school boards will make those emotional decisions after they get a second North County middle school.

"They will have to close a school," Gary said. "They will have to make a commitment. I think if they went in and said, 'When we finish this renovation the children will be phased out of this elementary school into the new school,' people will understand."

But maybe not.

"We are going to hold that school hostage?" said Rita Lowman of Ferndale, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs. She said she sees the government reneging on a $75 million equity plan for North County.

Sen. Philip C. Jimeno said he hopes Gary's conditions are not retaliation against him and Del. Joan Cadden, both Brooklyn Park Democrats, for successfully blocking Gary's attempts to win school board appointment authority.

School board President Joseph H. Foster accused Gary of "playing a game with us." He called the ultimatum a "slap in the face of the North County students."

Foster, of Linthicum, said potential elementary closings and the renovation of Brooklyn Park Middle, estimated to cost up to $26.2 million, are unrelated. Only the North County and Meade area students lack middle school programs, and teachers say that puts them at a disadvantage.

The board has pledged to look at elementary school enrollment when it opens the new middle school. The earliest that can happen is 2001.

"I don't know what the population is going to be in Ferndale in five years," Foster said.

The most likely candidates for closing would be Ferndale and Belle Grove, the smallest elementaries, which the board voted last year to consider closing only after Brooklyn Park Middle opens.

North County activists successfully battled the closing of Ferndale for more than a decade. Renovations have been delayed by school boards unwilling to make commitments to shut the school or keep it open in the long run.

Although Ferndale's enrollment was just 68 students in 1981, it has grown to about 180.

Gary is seeking support of District 31 and 32 legislators, but they are leaning the other way, said Del. John Leopold, a Pasadena Republican.

Legislators plan to meet again on the issue, probably next week. They were successful in getting Gary to agree not to try to place all North County middle school students at Andover.

The Interagency Committee, which reviews school construction, had to be convinced to approve planning this spring for Brooklyn Park Middle's renovation. It would provide $2.5 million toward the rebuilding.

The effect of all of the turmoil could be to give the county executive what he initially wanted -- to keep a Brooklyn Park Middle from opening until 2002. "I get my way anyway," Gary said. "I am the one who has to pay for it."

The assessment would have to be ready for a school board vote in January to get the county to free up planning money for the next year, said Rodell E. Phaire Sr., schools planning and construction chief.

It should include such things as a school population study, feasibility of building a new school and costs of partial renovations, said Gary's letter to school officials.

Pub Date: 6/27/96

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