Freedom to pursue life, liberty, property Several weeks...

Letters

January 20, 2002

Freedom to pursue life, liberty, property

Several weeks ago I was engaged in a discussion about property taxes with a colleague of mine who lives in Baltimore County. The conversation centered on the rapid pace of development in the counties surrounding the Baltimore metropolitan area. My co-worker remarked to me that he didn't understand why the residents of Howard County tolerate escalating property taxes. My response at the time was a rather thoughtless, "Neither do I."

Since that conversation, I have been reading stories about longtime Howard County residents having to sell their property and leave the area because of property tax bills that they can no longer pay. In fact, just recently, a friend of my wife informed her that their family was packing up and moving to Carroll County because of escalating property tax burdens.

That announcement got me thinking about the fundamental principles upon which our nation was founded. One of the first and foremost principles and the cornerstone of our democracy was the right to own and dispose of property as one chooses. Thomas Jefferson viewed property ownership as an essential element in the creation of a free society. Life, liberty and property were the core characteristics of real freedom.

Every resident of Howard County should receive a wake-up call when fellow citizens are being forced off of their property because of an inability to pay the property tax. These folks, through no fault of their own, have been caught up in the county's spiraling growth and the insatiable need for more and more revenue to provide services. Each time real estate is assessed at higher levels, there is a property tax increase.

Who speaks for those who must abandon their property against their will? What realistic and unbiased avenues must these people travel to seek redress? Who among all the rest of us will be the next victims of the rapacious appetite that local government has for more and more dollars? What will happen to our citizens as they retire and receive a fixed income? Will we have an environment that fosters the pursuit of happiness or will we deny that pursuit in Howard County?

Carl LaVerghetta

Ellicott City

The poor need not apply at `showcase school'

While a monument to Howard County's segregated past is being rehabilitated on Ellicott City's main street, a modern day example of exclusion exists a few miles away. The Ellicott City Colored School is a reminder of a time when the disadvantaged and poor were not afforded the best that Howard County had to offer. Centennial High School, Howard County's "Showcase School" offers public education to students fortunate enough to live within the schools' carefully crafted boundaries - borders based on nothing more than incomes and housing types.

To understand Centennial High, you must understand its status as Howard County's "Showcase School." Centennial has existed for 25 years as this county's entrant in Maryland's "big leagues" of education. Its competition is Bethesda's Whitman High School, Potomac's Churchill High School and Baltimore County's Dulaney High School. Showcase schools post impressive SAT scores, top scores on state-mandated tests and in very good years, several National Merit Scholars. Showcase schools provide regional and national recognition and give our Department of Education something to boast about. When speaking about these schools, educators like to highlight committed teachers and hard-working students, but the truth is that high-achieving schools draw students from stable, high-achieving neighborhoods.

For those keeping score, test results are a matter of public record. To put it kindly, Centennial High School is in the top four. In local terms, when Centennial gobbles up another area of high-priced, single-family homes, it's like the New York Yankees adding a power-hitting outfielder and former Cy Young pitcher to their roster. It's nothing more than the rich getting richer with the annexation of high-income areas keeping them competitive and in the game.

For years, gains at Centennial have come at the expense of other county schools. Mount Hebron has been especially impacted given its isolated location in the far northeastern part of the county. As Centennial's boundary lines have been drawn and redrawn almost exclusively around single-family homes, Mount Hebron has lost many good families. As apartment complexes on both sides of Route 40, which used to contribute little to the high school population, have filled with immigrants and lower-income families, Mount Hebron has single-handedly taken the load.

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