Council receives schools briefing

Superintendent lays work for OK of budget increase, warning of challenges

January 06, 2004|By Laura Loh and Ryan Davis | Laura Loh and Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

In a briefing to the Anne Arundel County Council last night on the state of local public schools, Superintendent Eric J. Smith began laying the groundwork for what he hopes will be county approval of a $39 million budget increase for next fiscal year.

Although Smith did not speak directly about the budget - it is still early in the process, and the school board has yet to approve its version of the budget and forward it to the council - the superintendent outlined for council members challenges he said the school system is facing.

Among them: the dozens of schools in danger of failing to meet federal requirements for annual progress; persistent performance disparities among minority or poor students and white students; and the need to raise expectations even for high-achieving students.

Smith also warned of higher costs down the road if the school system is not given money to fix existing problems. One future cost could be more buses to take children to schools of their parents' choice, as required by federal law if a student's home school performs too poorly.

The informal briefing also was an opportunity for the seven council members to question Smith about school system data and the federal requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act.

In response to Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks' question on when academic progress might be seen, given the initiatives begun this past fall, Smith said, "We're going to see it this year."

At its formal meeting that followed, the County Council gave no indication that it would support a developer's plan to turn a West County airport into a dense development of townhouses and condominiums.

Polm Cos. of Millersville wants to build 641 townhouses and condominiums at Suburban Airport, a Laurel airstrip with nearly 70 planes. Before Rick Polm can build the development, known as RiverWood, the county would need to rezone the land.

The county is in the final stages of implementing its small-area plan for that part of the county, and Polm Cos. officials want the council to amend the plan to allow the development.

But because the council did not approve the plan last night, a council member could introduce such an amendment at its meeting Feb. 2.

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