Anne Arundel county executive ends feud with school officials In turnabout, Gary offers $17 million in funding

September 17, 1998|By Tom Pelton and Kris Antonelli | Tom Pelton and Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

In a dramatic election-season turnaround, Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary held a news conference with top school officials yesterday to announce the end of their bitter public feuding.

Gary did not hug Superintendent Carol S. Parham and Board of Education President Carlesa Finney, but he gave them the legislative equivalent, a bill that would provide the schools with $17 million more for school renovations.

Gary sat between Parham and Finney at a long table in his office and expressed regret for the tone of his past criticisms of them. He retracted his earlier demand that the state conduct an audit of their spending.

"I think it's a shame that this has gotten out of control in terms of the rhetoric," Gary said. "And I'm making a commitment today to bite my tongue."

The news conference at the Arundel Center came the morning after Janet Owens won the Democratic nomination to challenge Gary in the Nov. 3 general election. Owens told voters that the fighting between Gary and school officials was hurting students.

"This is absolutely transparent that he would do this at this time," Owens said, laughing. "Suddenly, Mr. Gary is the savior of education? This is very political. I think the parents will feel manipulated."

Disagreements between Gary and the Board of Education have flared up throughout his four-year term, with Gary frequently charging that the school bureaucracy was wasting money.

This year, the attacks became more acrimonious, with Gary demanding a state audit of the school system. He claimed that administrators were illegally transferring money to hire bureaucrats.

"As with any relationship, they go through rough periods. But now we are back on track," Parham said.

One thing that warmed the news conference was a bill that would transfer $17 million from a county contingency account to the Board of Education. Gary will introduce it to the County Council on Tuesday.

The money is to be used for school renovation and construction projects for which Parham and Finney have been pushing.

Gary said school officials had told him in the past to "go pound sand" when he asked how they spend money. After a three-hour meeting Tuesday with Parham and Finney, Gary said the school officials had a change of heart and were willing to give him information.

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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