Howard Week

February 06, 2005

Legislators kill bill to allow charging fee for school field use

After weeks of discussion, Howard County's legislators killed a bill to allow the school board to charge fees for the use of outdoor playing fields, one of five bills voted down yesterday in Annapolis.

Among the other defeated bills was one to slightly lower the county property tax and three intended to force large developers to pay more in property and transfer taxes. Another bill, to exempt Howard County from all-day kindergarten, was withdrawn by sponsor Del. Gail H. Bates, a Republican, for lack of support.

The delegation approved a bill to allow more than six luxury-class restaurant liquor licenses in the county and another to require notification of county officials when anyone applies to open a medical clinic serving more than 16 patients.

Bills affecting only Howard County are usually routinely approved by the full General Assembly if local legislators agree.

School, state officials tracking pair of projects

Howard County school officials and the Maryland Department of the Environment are working to make sure two construction projects - an addition at Glenelg High School and a new western elementary school - are completed by August 2006.

For months, school officials had expressed concerns that the two projects could be delayed because of difficulties in obtaining permits for septic systems.

The school system needs MDE's approval for groundwater discharge permits by next month to meet the August 2006 deadline on both projects. The discharge permits - which regulate disposal of treated wastewater into the state's groundwater - must be issued before the school system can obtain construction permits.

"Any longer than this spring, we're at risk," Raymond Brown, the school system's chief operating officer, told County Council members at a meeting with the school board Wednesday.

The septic system at Glenelg High School has long been an obstacle to building a 400-seat addition. The project is meant to provide much-needed relief for the crowded school, which is 27 percent over capacity this year with 1,273 students.

The new western elementary school in Dayton would also provide relief for surrounding schools, particularly Bushy Park Elementary in Glenwood, which is at more than 150 percent of capacity.

County Council tackles rezoning at work session

Howard County Council members wrestled with the perils of rezoning during a work session review in Ellicott City on Monday, but no votes were taken and final decisions may be pushed off until April.

The council is working to prepare for formal votes on 41 rezoning proposals left from last year's comprehensive rezoning of the county, and from a study of the seven-mile U.S. 40 corridor from Patapsco State Park west to the Turf Valley golf club and hotel.

County planners are trying to prepare for urbanization along the mostly commercial highway corridor as part of the transformation from development that began in the 1950s.

The toughest challenge, council members said, is deciding how to spur new, perhaps innovative, designs and developments without offending longtime neighbors or allowing so many new homes and apartments that schools or roads become more congested.

Baltimore man convicted in killing of deli owner

A Howard County Circuit Court jury convicted a Baltimore man Friday of first-degree felony murder in the fatal shooting of a Jessup deli owner in 2003 during a robbery that netted $125,000.

After deliberating for two hours, the 12-member jury found Walter J. Blannon, 39, guilty of participating in the robbery that ended in the death of Kwang Jun Kim, 53, of Ellicott City, who was fatally shot in the head.

The jury also convicted Blannon, of the 1600 block of N. Calvert St., of first-degree assault, robbery with a dangerous weapon and using a handgun in the commission of a violent crime.

Sentencing is scheduled for May 19. The state will seek a sentence of life without parole.

Reginald Venable Jr., 47, of the 800 block of E. 33rd St. in Baltimore is also charged with first-degree murder and related counts in Kim's death. He is scheduled for trial Feb. 15.

Revised schools' policy draws mixed reviews

For the past five years, Howard County middle school pupils got a clear message: Slack off in eighth-grade and lose the opportunity to play fall sports or join a club in ninth grade.

That rule no longer applies.

Starting next school year, rising ninth-graders, regardless of their grades, will be eligible to join a fall, after-school activity under a revised academic eligibility policy approved last week by the school board. While coaches, athletic directors and some parents welcome the change, others fear the new policy may mean lower academic achievement for middle school pupils.

"Now, I am concerned in the spring - when spring fever hits and it's very difficult for teachers to keep the attention of the kids anyway - there's no carrot that says you have to keep working because you want to be eligible for high school [extracurricular activities]," said Sandra H. French, a former school board member who pushed to raise middle school academic achievement.

The shift in the academic eligibility policy is a reversal for the school system that had required eighth-graders to maintain a cumulative "C" average in core subjects and no failing grades in the final marking period to join fall extracurricular activities when they enter high school.

Many believe the change was necessary.

"Instead of starting with a sense of failure, you're given a fresh start," said Krista Feezel, a parent of an eighth-grader at Oakland Mills Middle School.

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