Annapolis' future starts with education

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January 23, 2000|By NORRIS WEST

To most Marylanders, Annapolis is the place where the state does its legislative, administrative and judicial business.

Annapolis is the State House, the legislative session, appellate courts and state of the state speeches.

Annapolis also is the Naval Academy, with its rigid cadets and their immaculate, white uniforms, preparing to become tomorrow's military leaders.

And, Annapolis is a tourism haven. Its more than 300 years of history that shine through colonial buildings and other early American relics that visionaries like preservationist Anne St. Clair Wright worked tirelessly to restore.

The city is one of the state's brightest ornaments, with glittering waterfront, breathtaking scenery and --.

Home. To the state capital's 35,000 residents, the city is, above all else, where they live.

Although Annapolitans cherish the city's charms, their first priority is the quality of life for the inhabitants. They are concerned with how the city is taking shape and what it will look like 20 years from now.

Residents of Ward One, which includes most of the historic district, gathered last week to brainstorm ways to plot the future for a city with a rich past.

They explored a number of topics: education, economic development, transportation, the environment and housing. They talked about growth -- whether they need more or not, and if they need it, how to manage it.

I joined the panel discussion that included Mayor Dean L. Johnson, State Rep. Michael Busch and County Councilwoman Barbara Samorajczyk. Nothing was solved, but much was explored.

The meeting place was the ideal locale to discuss change: a building in the Anne Arundel Medical Center complex.

Next year, the hospital will leave the site for a new home in Parole, on the outskirts of town. It will be replaced by a 139-unit, upscale residential development of single-family homes, townhouses and condominiums.

Some attending the meeting adamantly opposed any more residential development in a city they believe is overwhelmed by growth. The event's organizer, Ward One President W. Minor Carter, thinks the new development would bring too many homes to the 5-acre site.

Some decried other changes that have made neighborhoods seem less like communities than they once were.

They fear development will make things worse.

One attendee remarked: "Residents are under siege."

Indeed, not all growth is good. But some might be necessary.

Annapolis has a lot of obligations. The city has the most public housing, per capita, of any community in Maryland.

And because it is the state's capital with government-owned and nonprofit buildings, 40 percent of its property is tax-exempt.

The bottom line: Annapolis must generate revenue to compensate for properties that don't.

Baltimore and other larger cities also are trying to attract high-income earners and businesses to pay for services their citizens need.

Change is inevitable, even for a city that has kept so much the same for hundreds of years. Annapolitans must decide how much development it needs -- or can stand -- and how to manage growth well enough to make it an asset instead of an enemy.

One advantage is a fairly decent public transportation system, which could help deal with expanding residential and economic development.

Growth, however, may be secondary to Annapolis' future. The city's main challenge might be education. Public school students' achievement has slipped, and schools have become more racially segregated over the years.

Delegate Busch pointed out that resegregation has occurred in Annapolis education. The city's public schools have become predominantly black while private schools have miniscule minority enrollment. The city is one-third African-American.

Baltimore has gone through this, and Howard County schools officials worry about white flight from some Columbia schools.

Nothing is more dangerous to Annapolis' future than racial division.

Delegate Busch says schools officials should find incentives to attract white parents to public schools. That's a good idea, but would Annapolis be up to it?

Meanwhile, something must be done in Annapolis to improve school performance -- a county responsibility but a city problem. City residents can play a role.

As a volunteer at an Anne Arundel County public school, I have worked with bright African-American students who could use encouragement.

Annapolis residents who care about the city's future can help build better students, whether by serving as volunteers or advocates.

Schools and students could benefit from the involvement of community-spirited people like the citizens who attended the Ward One meeting.

Guardianship of Annapolis' buildings, roads and waterfront will help determine what the city looks like in 20 years.

But children are the future. Any talk about how the city will look in 2020 begins and ends with how well they are raised and educated.

Norris West writes editorials for The Sun from Anne Arundel County.

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