Money for schools doesn't end conflict Baltimore Co. leaders disagree on how to prevent crowding

August 19, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Despite shifting millions of new dollars into planned school construction, Baltimore County's leaders remain divided on how to prevent school crowding.

Meanwhile, a County Council school facilities task force scheduled to hold its last scheduled meeting this week has slowed the rush toward proposing a comprehensive adequate facilities law as the solution.

The issue will heat up again next month, when the task force issues a report and Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican, plans to introduce yet another bill to extend the moratorium on home building in areas with crowded elementary schools.

On one side are the county's business interests and County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, who think that a $90 million school construction loan will solve the problem -- contingent on voter approval of the borrowing in the Nov. 5 election.

But some council members and community groups think that more control is needed.

"The business community believes it's time to declare victory," says Stuart Kaplow, an attorney representing the county Chamber of Commerce. He opposes imposition of a new adequate facilities law -- a measure requiring that public needs, including classroom space, are met before residential development is allowed. He calls it "a 1970s idea."

Developers and Ruppersberger believe the aging county needs more home building to stimulate economic growth and tax revenues. They say new building is not the cause of crowding in the county's schools but that councilmen nervous about constituents' complaints have made it the whipping boy for the problem.

They want a 6-year-old "temporary" moratorium law to expire Nov. 1, as scheduled, and the repeated extensions that have continued its life to end.

"We're on top of the problem now," Ruppersberger says. "I think we've done the job. If we haven't done the job, we'll have time to pass a bill."

This month, Ruppersberger proposed and the council adopted the transfer of $23 million in proposed borrowing for capital projects to increase the school construction loan that will be on the general election ballot to $90 million.

The plan also shifted the focus on school capital projects from renovation to adding high school classroom space.

But McIntire said that declaring victory now "is absurd and shortsighted."

The extra school construction money and plans that included a $33 million high school for Owings Mills in his district "don't solve the problem at all," he said.

"I want a more permanent solution," he said, vowing to introduce a bill to extend the moratorium and offer several ideas for long-term solutions, depending on what the committee suggests.

Catonsville's Democratic Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley agreed.

"More is going to have to be done for the long term," he said.

Last month, council auditor Brian J. Rowe told fellow members of the task force drawn from the business and school sectors that he planned to draft an adequate facilities law that would include all county schools, but allow enough waivers and exceptions to avoid creating a moratorium on home building.

But a draft version of a final report he circulated to the seven-member group this month does not contain any such bill. It refers to the idea of such a law as one option among many available to the council and concludes, "This report has not presented a blueprint which can be implemented immediately, but a concept plan or framework."

Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat who appointed the task force in March, says its work was responsible for the big shift of school construction money and that it is a success on that basis alone.

But he, too, wants a longer-lasting tool that allows for better planning of school needs. The boost in construction money is a significant advance, he said, "but we need a better process."

The Ruppersberger administration pushed through the bond changes near the deadline for inclusion on the election ballot to address crowding in high schools that was predicted in December -- but that the school board and county planning board did not address in a capital budget that had called for $77 million worth of renovations to high schools over six years without adding one seat.

Those plans were thrown out in favor of more classroom additions, and work planned on underenrolled schools was canceled. The changes resulted in a shift of spending from older, declining areas in the southeast to growing sections such as Owings Mills and Reisterstown.

And that left some, including Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Democrat who represents Perry Hall and Essex, unhappy.

"There was $12 million shifted from my district," he said. Projects important to revitalizing old areas, such as renovations at Kenwood High and a new Martin Boulevard Elementary, were pushed back, and that hurts the community conservation effort, he said.

Another $100 million in 1998 is needed to really solve school facilities problems, he said.

Still, he opposes continuing the "counterproductive" moratorium.

Pub Date: 8/19/96

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