Education activists assail executive over newsletter Critics say it reads like campaign flier, lauds Gary unfairly

December 15, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A one-page newsletter from County Executive John G. Gary has bombed with education activists, who see it as taxpayer-funded political braggadocio.

"It appeared to be more of a campaign flier than a newsletter," said Vaughan Brown, Citizen Advisory Committee leader for Meade High School. "I would have to say that from following education in this county, it misrepresents the facts."

The premiere issue of County Executive Exchange points to the October issue of Expansion Management, a business-relocation magazine that ranked Anne Arundel schools second in the state. The newsletter gives Gary credit for improving education.

"Any reason why I shouldn't? I was willing to fund them," Gary said last week, referring to the schools.

But residents involved with education say they have found a slew of reasons that he shouldn't.

"John Gary taking credit for improving education is like Attila the Hun taking credit as a peacemaker," said John Kurpjuweit, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. "John Gary is the first county executive to base funding on the minimum required by law."

Gary said he was "absolutely caught off-guard" by the criticism. "My only role here is to put up the money? Is that it?" he asked.

The flier was included in a routine mailing to about 700 community groups and was mailed to all 230 or so Citizen Advisory Committees and PTAs. The cost of the paper and postage was $89.30, said its author, Lawrence R. Telford, Gary's public information officer and his former campaign manager.

Future semimonthly mailings will not be sent to the education groups unless the topic is schools, Telford said.

Carol S. Parham, the county superintendent of schools who was praised in the newsletter, said she learned of the publication from a parent. "But we certainly appreciate the county executive sharing our pride in the school system," she said.

Telford said there was no reason to send the flier to Parham.

"She certainly can contact us, and we would be happy to put her on our mailing list," Telford said.

Brown refused to distribute the letter through the Citizen Advisory Committee, which is an official arm of the school board.

"I certainly am not going to go out and expend Meade High School or Anne Arundel public school resources to disseminate this," Brown said. "It was singing the praises of John Gary."

Some of the flier's material came from Gary's 1994 campaign literature, Telford acknowledged. He pointed, for example, to a paragraph that said school administrative salaries had increased about 20 percent during the two years before Gary took office.

Individual salaries did not balloon, however. What happened was that many jobs were moved from the instructional category to the administrative category.

The newsletter also said that within a year of Gary's taking office, Parham announced a plan to drop 21 administrative jobs and send the money to the classroom.

"He had nothing to do with that," said school board President Joseph H. Foster, who regularly clashes with Gary. "That was a result of our saying, 'You've got to downsize central office.' "

Parham's reorganization began while Gary's predecessor, Robert R. Neall, was in office.

"But I'm paying for it," Gary said.

The flier also refers to an increase in money for classroom materials under Gary but doesn't mention that there are not enough textbooks to go around.

"Parents are paying for books and for computers," said longtime civic activist Carolyn Roeding, who also is leader of the Citizen Advisory Committee for Northeast High School and vice president of the Severna Park Democratic Club. "This is deceiving. It makes it look like we have textbooks and computers in every classroom, and we don't."

Foster said of the flier's claim about instructional materials, "I do take offense to that. That was a major priority of mine, increasing materials of instruction."

Elementary school parents, who save grocery receipts, scavenge for computer giveaways and hold fund-raisers to build computer labs, were infuriated by a passage in the newsletter implying that Gary supplied money for "78 additional teachers and $2.4 million of computers during the past two years."

The school technology program was aimed solely at the upper grades, said the parents, none of whom would speak for attribution.

And the 78 teachers are fewer than the schools have requested.

A recent attempt to hire 20 teachers was contentious. Gary and the County Council turned down the school board's request that the county use its contingency fund for nine of them, instead authorizing the board to use surplus money from last year's budget to add all 20.

The organization's overriding concerns since Gary has been in office have been trying to get a new school or an addition and Gary's policy of not halting development in an area until its schools are 20 percent over capacity.

Gary defended his mailing as informative good news about the schools. He acknowledged that it was political but said it was not a campaign flier.

"When you see my campaign literature, you will know it. It will not mention Carol Parham or anybody else -- it will be just about me," Gary said. "I really know how to beat my chest."

The next issue of County Executive Exchange will focus on county pension reform.

Pub Date: 12/15/96

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