The education executive Funding schools: Janet Owens read public's concerns

now she must use that same deftness to lead.

November 05, 1998

JANET S. OWENS beat incumbent Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary for one reason: She knew the paramount issue in this campaign was education. Mr. Gary mistakenly thought it was taxation, or fear of taxes. Her message carried the day.

In many ways, Mr. Gary defeated himself. County residents favor lean and efficient government, but they also want a high quality of service.

Mr. Gary's unrelenting war against the school board and the education system frightened the public. Many believed his heavy-handed efforts to rein in education spending might have ultimately hurt its quality.

Had Mr. Gary reshaped his message about school spending so it wasn't so threatening, he might have alienated fewer voters.

Ms. Owens will have to wrestle with the same problems that Mr. Gary faced. The conflict between the county executive and the school board over control of the education budget remains.

Ms. Owens may be more sympathetic to the board than Mr. Gary has been, but generating more revenue to increase education spending will be an uphill task.

Attracting commercial and industrial development is probably the most effective way to increase the county's assessable tax base. However, as it was with Arundel Mills and the auto racetrack, such large-scale development stirs residents' antagonism toward growth.

Raising the piggy-back income tax would be political dynamite, given that Ms. Owens said she would not raise taxes.

Yet cutting the budget is also problematic. Anne Arundel residents expect a high level of public services, from schools to parks. There aren't too many pockets of fat left in the county budget.

Ms. Owens' challenge will be to govern with the same skill with which she campaigned.

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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