Still not enough for schools Needed projects will receive added funding, but operations budget inadequate.

May 06, 1998

PROVIDING an additional $9 million for school construction was a wise move by Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker. Too bad he won't similarly improve the school operating budget to serve the growing student population.

After years of austerity, Howard can finally afford new reading and school discipline programs. But Mr. Ecker doesn't want to provide the money, and the County Council is marching to his beat.

Putting more local money into the schools' long-range capital budget became necessary after the state allocation came in at $13 million, instead of the $20 million expected. Mr. Ecker has agreed not only to make up for the $7 million shortfall but restore another $2.3 million the schools requested.

Mr. Ecker has specified that none of the additional money go toward planning a new high school. His unwillingness to see the need for a high school in the Fulton area -- where new homes will mushroom the student population -- appears shortsighted. But because Mr. Ecker can't run for re-election, the next county executive will get to deal with that.

The schools may also have to count on the next executive to improve their operations budget. It is hard to understand why Mr. Ecker is taking such a hard line toward school funding at the same time he is proposing an income tax cut.

A school system that had to cut corners the past several years because of poor revenue collections is being shortchanged in a booming economy. Mr. Ecker is increasing school funding, but not enough to compensate for past reductions.

The council says it may add another $1.4 million, but that's not enough for new programs.

Some politicians seem to think the schools need only enough to maintain the status quo. But schools that keep growing -- especially in the state's largest, fast-growing system -- need more than that. Howard schools typically are among Maryland's best. Their level of performance will deteriorate if needed programs to address reading deficiencies and discipline problems are mothballed again.

Pub Date: 5/06/98

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