Parents voice school worries

Elected officials under fire at PTA group meeting

`Crude political tactics'

Some suggest tax increase to cover education needs

April 30, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

They were sufficiently warned.

This would not be the kind of meeting where audience members lobbed softball questions at their elected officials. No canned responses would be given. This was no time for election-year speeches and promise-making.

When it was time for the question-and-answer segment of the Carroll County Council of PTAs' first town meeting last night, parents held their commissioners' and legislators' feet to the fire.

The audience questioned them on a recently passed bill that requires all-day kindergarten, which would cost Carroll taxpayers about $4.2 million. They demanded to know why residential impact fees were not raised when the school system needs every dollar it can get.

They accused state and federal governments of shortchanging special education programs. They invoked the prospect of raising taxes to maintain the educational standards to which Carroll families have become accustomed.

In a diatribe that drew the greatest applause of the evening, county resident David DeChant responded to remarks by state Del. Carmen Amedori and Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson on the difficulty of raising taxes without overburdening senior citizens, and about what the legislators described as the problem-laden school districts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City.

"This is a national security issue," DeChant said of improving education. "Do not pit the senior citizens against our children. It's crude political tactics. We are in this together.

"Make our children first - the children of Maryland, not the children of P.G. County or Baltimore City, the children of Maryland," he continued. "Don't pit one group of children against each other. It's folly."

Ferguson shot back, "I don't know what type of business you're in, but while you're busy making money, we're losing money to serve," gesturing to Commissioners Robin Bartlett Frazier and Donald I. Dell, and Dels. Donald B. Elliott and Amedori, seated beside him on the dais in the Board of Education's meeting room. "So I take offense to anyone suggesting that we're not working hard."

Earlier in the evening, Amedori had said she typically supports legislation "that makes Baltimore City schools better, to make Baltimore City more attractive so the people in Baltimore City will stay there."

In response to parent Claire Kwiatkowski's suggestion that Carroll residents would be willing to pay more taxes to maintain the quality of county schools, Amedori proposed giving the school board the authority to raise taxes.

"If we're talking about education, maybe the school board should be held accountable for raising taxes that affect seniors ... who already are barely making it," she said. "Because I'm not going to vote to raise their taxes."

Ferguson said legislators who vote to raise taxes typically don't make it out of their next round of primary elections. Dell talked about the consequences of his most recent vote for a tax increase: broken glass showed up on his driveway, and his cattle fencing was cut in 27 places, allowing 50 of his cows onto the highway at 2 a.m. on a Sunday.

Organizers with the PTAs council said they hope the town hall-style meeting, which drew more than 50 people, will be held annually.

Although the council has held forums for school board candidates during the past few election cycles, parent activists decided those sessions were not enough opportunity to question potential decision-makers.

"The council has started, in the past couple of years, to get a little more involved with the leadership of the county," said Laura Rhodes, advocacy chairwoman of the council, an umbrella group for the school system's PTAs. "Now, we've decided we'd like to have a more open dialogue with the people who are in office so they hear parents' concerns about education."

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