The public gets marked as absent

May 16, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Copies of the school construction proposal and public comment cards were neatly stacked at the back of the auditorium. Ten rows of red plastic chairs were carefully set out. The projector had been tested and the PowerPoint presentation was ready to go.

Nine county school officials, a county budget chief and two newspaper reporters were on hand and the superintendent's executive assistant was ready to take notes.

They waited.

They sang, they told jokes and Dona Voitelle, the superintendent's assistant, even tap-danced.

They waited longer.

Finally, after 29 minutes, interim Superintendent Charles I. Ecker thanked everyone for attending and called it a night.

For the first time in at least 15 years, no one from the public showed up for a school district public hearing.

"I guess nobody has any complaints," Ecker quipped. "Now [county budget bureau chief] Ted [Zaleski] is going to go back and cut everything out of our budget because nobody needs anything."

Last year, about 230 residents from nearly every corner of the county crowded into South Carroll High's auditorium to ask the superintendent to change the school system's facilities master plan, which sets out the county's school construction and renovation projects for the next decade.

This year, with most of the big projects approved and funded, little might have been left to stir controversy and draw parents to the auditorium of Cranberry Station Elementary on a picture-perfect spring evening.

Facilities Director Raymond Prokop tried to persuade a Girl Scout troop that was meeting down the hall to hear his presentation. (Ecker asked if the Scouts could at least bring their cookies.)

Walter Brilhart, the system's budget supervisor, and Bruce Cowan, the district's physical education and athletics supervisor, suggested recruiting audience members from nearby chain restaurants or Westminster TownMall down the street.

But no one seemed distraught - they applauded - when Ecker ended the nonmeeting and sent everyone home.

For Prokop, last night's public hearing was to be his first since being promoted early this year from his position as construction supervisor. He crowed that last night's attendance was a positive sign of things to come.

"Don't let him get that swollen head," said his predecessor, Kathleen Sanner, when reached at home last night. "At least [former assistant superintendent] Vernon [F. Smith Jr.] and I could put on a show."

Prokop's next scheduled performance will be June 12, when the school board is expected to discuss and vote on the master plan at its monthly meeting.

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