Decision delayed on crowded elementary Board sets Aug. vote on whether to expand

July 11, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school board postponed yesterday a decision on whether to renovate and expand the county's most crowded elementary school or accede to County Executive John G. Gary's proposal to build a new school elsewhere in Pasadena.

Board members put off the decision until their August meeting, saying they didn't have enough information on the proposal, floated over the winter by Gary and Pasadena Councilman Thomas W. Redmond Sr., to replace Fort Smallwood Elementary with a new school.

Fort Smallwood parents were infuriated that the board was considering the idea, charging that their children had become pawns in the political war between the Gary administration and the school system.

"You guys are on one side of the tennis court, and they are on the other. And we're the ball," Carol Kemp, Fort Smallwood PTA president, told the board at yesterday's meeting.

Critics have complained that a new school on a new site, which would cost at least $4.3 million more than the planned renovations, would pander to moneyed builders who hope to put new homes nearby and does nothing for them.

Board members said they were being placed in a terrible position by being asked to make a decision without a written commitment from the administration for a new site, what the new site would look like, whether the additional money to build the new school would be taken from other projects, or whether the County Council would approve spending the money.

They directed their staff to write state and local officials asking about complex bond questions, a site and promises to pay the higher costs.

They want answers by their Aug. 7 meeting, when they expect to vote on whether to abandon their original plan.

"I'm sure if the Board of Education wants a commitment on a site, we can get them a commitment," Redmond said last night.

He said it makes no sense to add on to a school on a site that won't accommodate portable classrooms when the surrounding community continues to grow.

The newest board member, Paul G. Rudolph, a retired Westinghouse Electric Corp. engineer, said he visited Fort Smallwood and was impressed by how easy it would be to renovate the 19-year-old building.

"Suddenly, we get into political issues here, that's what it is," he said.

During yesterday's meeting, parents raised issue after issue, from funding to portable classrooms, and board members had more and more questions.

The situation is further complicated because the board had planned a sequence of school construction projects that would allow more than 100 students who attend crowded Jacobsville Elementary to move to Fort Smallwood in 1999. Gary's plan delays Fort Smallwood improvements a year.

"We're getting sandbagged up here, and I'm getting tired of it," said board member Thomas E. Florestano, who suggested that the parents set up a meeting involving all parties.

Tensions increased throughout the afternoon discussions. At one point, board member Michael J. McNelly criticized the school staff for not having enough details, and Superintendent Carol S. Parham pounded the dais in front of her as she defended her staff's work.

In other business, the board named Joan A. Valentine, an assistant principal at Annapolis Senior High School, the principal of the alternative high school for disruptive youths that will open this winter in Crownsville.

Pub Date: 7/11/96

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