Gary moves to end feud with schools He joins Parham, school board head at news conference

Owens calls move political

County executive presents $17 million school renovation bill

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 by this."

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.

Gary also charged that Parham had endorsed the board's padded budget in exchange for a renewal of her contract.

Yesterday, Gary said a state audit of the system would probably not be necessary because the superintendent had assured him that she would set up an accounting system so that he could verify money was being spent properly.

"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 Tuesday.

The money will be used for school renovation and construction projects.

The projects include $8.3 million for construction of a 600-student elementary school in Davidsonville; $4.4 million to partly finance renovation of Mayo Elementary School in south county; and $1.3 million for a new heating and air conditioning system for Hilltop Elementary School in Annapolis.

"We are very pleased, and the timing is perfect with the election year," said Finney.

Gary said he will try to meet more frequently with the superintendent to improve communication between them.

After the news conference, Gary said he is not taking back statements he made in August, when he said he thought school officials had broken state law by transferring money without the County Council's approval.

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.

"It was a love fest this morning," Gary said. "But that's what the public wants us to do, and I have always been willing to do it."

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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