Survey finds education has risen to become residents' top concern County executive race emphasizes school issues, making Parham happy

October 22, 1998|By Kirsten Scharnberg | Kirsten Scharnberg,SUN STAFF

It's no wonder savvy politicians are clamoring to paint themselves as a voter's ideal "pro-education candidate."

A poll conducted by Anne Arundel Community College's Center for the Study of Local Issues indicates that for the first time in four years, education is the top concern of county residents.

Asked what is "the most important problem facing the residents of Anne Arundel County," 29 percent of the respondents named education, 26 percent said growth, 19 percent said crime, and 5 percent said taxes. Last spring, education was the top concern of 17 percent of respondents, ranking it far behind growth and crime.

"We have not seen any of the top concerns change by this large of a percentage from one survey to the next," said center director Dan Nataf, who noted that the countywide poll has been conducted for about 20 years. "And it's no state secret how that came about."

Educational priorities have been highlighted in TV and print advertisements by candidates all over the country, running for every level of public office.

"Nationwide, education is a priority issue for citizens," said Susie Jablinske, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. "This is not a local phenomenon. Candidates all over the country are running on the education platform."

So it's not surprising that County Executive John G. Gary and Janet Owens, fighting a close battle for the highest political office in Anne Arundel County, are campaigning hard on platforms calling for improving education.

Owens, the Democratic challenger, has vilified Gary for his role in the school budget war that erupted last spring.

"Today, our children and teachers are suffering in a political war zone," she says in her campaign literature. "Test scores are falling, buildings are deteriorating and morale is at an all-time low. All this, while millions of dollars are shifted from the schools to fund other county projects. As the next county executive, I will change that direction."

Owens once called Gary a "schoolyard bully."

"People are not happy with all of the acrimony that has occurred between the county executive, County Council and the school board," she said.

The word "education" is highlighted in bold, bright-blue letters in Gary's campaign literature. There is a color picture of the Republican executive with three small children and a quote: "I have a granddaughter who, like these children, will soon be attending school. I want an education second to none for all our kids. That's why I've doubled the textbook budget, increased school construction by 30 percent, and funded 272 new teachers."

Whatever the reason for the attention, Superintendent Carol S. Parham is relishing it.

"Frankly, I'm glad to see it," she said. "The quality of your schools is an indicator of the quality of life in your community. When you hear of a community having good schools, you usually associate that with good housing and low crime."

Parham, who has consistently requested more funds for county schools, recognizes there might be some conflict in the part of the survey that finds that residents want good schools and low taxes.

"All I can say is, it's going to be a challenging task for the next county executive," she said.

The survey also found:

The proposed building of an auto racetrack in the northern part of the county is opposed by 42 percent and supported by 36 percent, with 22 percent undecided.

When asked how serious local transportation problems are, 24 percent said very serious, 32 percent said somewhat serious, and 35 percent said not very serious.

When asked whether they would support a moratorium on residential construction in their area, 53 percent said yes, 35 percent said no, and 12 percent were undecided.

The survey polled 356 county residents.

Pub Date: 10/22/98

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