Budget hearing focuses on schools

Balto. County Council urged to maintain funds for education in 2000

April 28, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Council was told last night to keep its hands off funds that Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger plans to spend next year on schools but to slash the $12 million budgeted to buy and demolish the Tall Trees apartment complex in Essex.

About 200 people attended a public hearing on Ruppersberger's proposed $1.7 billion budget at Loch Raven High School. More than half of the 96 people who signed up to speak stressed the need for increased school spending.

Ruppersberger's proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 calls for $74 million in spending increases and pumps millions into school repairs, community centers and fire and police stations.

Repair and renovation

The spending plan budgets $156 million for repairing and renovating 49 elementary schools. It also increases the amount for school operations by another $67 million to pay for 50 new elementary school teachers, 28 special education teachers and 10 new counselors for elementary schools.

Parents, teachers and administrators told the council the money is needed for highly qualified teachers, smaller class sizes, new musical instruments and a new set of math textbooks in the elementary schools.

"It's important that we do everything possible to equip our classrooms and to expose our students to the latest technology," said Richard Magnani, who runs a consulting engineering company and served as chairman of a schools task force on technology.

Under Ruppersberger's spending plan, $4.8 million would go to wire county middle and high schools for computers, and $3.2 million would pay for new musical instruments next year.

Howard Dreizen, a member of Timbergrove Elementary School PTA, discussed the need for the $2.5 million proposed for new math texts for elementary schools. He said teachers are improvising because of a textbook shortage.

"The teachers have been working without textbooks, [copying] materials and handing them out to students," he said.

Anger over Tall Trees

About two dozen speakers also expressed fear and anger at the prospect of being evicted from Tall Trees as part of the county's $12 million demolition of the 800-unit complex.

They said they are skeptical about assurances that state and county officials would find new homes for them.

"For doing what is right I'm being kicked out of my home," said Ralph Henderson, 80, a father of three who has lived in Tall Trees since 1947.

About 2,500 people live in the 105 buildings on 53 acres off Back River Neck Road.

Ruppersberger plans to purchase the buildings from 38 landlords and turn the site into a park over the next two to four years as part of an effort to revitalize aging communities in the eastern part of the county.

Tall Trees is near the Riverdale apartment complex, which is also being torn down, and Eastern Boulevard, where work on a $5 million streetscape is under way.

Under Ruppersberger's proposed budget, the tax rate -- unchanged for the previous five years -- would remain at $2.855 per $100 of assessed value. But county homeowners would pay an average of $23 more in property taxes next year because of state assessment increases.

The council, which must adopt a balanced budget by June 1, can only trim the budget and cannot increase spending. It has scheduled a series of sessions next month to review the budget and a hearing May 28 to adopt a final spending plan.

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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