Report gets mixed review

Transition team urges higher teacher salaries, new gasoline tax

April 06, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold should use a faith-based component to offering social services, limit senior services to the most needy residents, raise the pay of teachers and some school administrators, and lobby for new taxes on gasoline and water use, according to a wide-ranging report released yesterday.

Leopold said he was "generally pleased with the tone and the broad strokes" in the 110-page report from his transition team. But, noting that he is already acting on several of the recommendations, he dismissed proposals to seek state authority to create taxes for a dedicated county fund for infrastructure improvements and to close senior centers if new promotion efforts fail to attract more patrons.

After winning the election in November, the county executive formed a 70-member transition team of civic and business leaders, lawmakers and supporters to draft policy initiatives and advise him on ways the county government could run more efficiently.

Members served on one of four committees that focused separately on education, health, social services and aging and disabilities; military expansion and economic development; transportation; land use and the environment; and public safety.

The report said Leopold should include pastoral representation on the board overseeing the Department of Social Services and appoint a faith-based liaison to build relations between churches and social workers.

Committee members said strained funding makes it necessary for seniors who can afford it to pay for meals, transportation, housing and other services offered by the county, so that those resources can be offered "for those truly needy."

The report also highlighted concerns about the school system, including what it said are uncompetitive salaries that have driven away high-quality educators and the lack of a formal program to groom prospective school principals and assistant principals.

Task force members said the leadership void would particularly harm schools struggling to meet state and federal student performance benchmarks.

The county executive said his budget, which he will present in May, will give teachers a previously negotiated 6 percent raise and provide an unspecified boost to other administrators.

The county is facing a plethora of demands on services and infrastructure - with an impending military expansion that will relocate thousands of workers to Fort Meade - but he disagreed with the report's proposal to impose a penny-per-gallon county tax on gasoline and household water service.

Rather, the county executive said, he will submit legislation in the coming weeks to raise developer impact fees to pay for new roads and other projects.

Leopold, who was briefed Wednesday on the report, said he is a step ahead of many of its recommendations, or is in the process of doing so, such as:

Securing the 1,200-acre Crownsville Hospital Center and the 857-acre former Naval Academy dairy farm in Gambrills.

Streamlining the permit process to make it more convenient for customers.

Revising the scope of the General Development Plan, the county's comprehensive growth blueprint, to discourage growth in South County, encourage revitalization of older communities and target growth along transit routes.

Promote a conference center for business events and high school graduations.

"I was pleased that the focus has not been to take a look into the rearview mirror and find fault in past administrations, but to draft recommendations that would improve the quality of life for the residents of this county," Leopold said.

Missing from the final report was direct criticism against a former head of the county's economic development agency who worked for Leopold's predecessor, Janet S. Owens. William A. Badger Jr., who served as chief executive of the quasi-government agency for nearly seven years until stepping down in February 2006, was accused in a previous version of the report of alleged mismanagement, misappropriation of funds, political favors and abuse of power.

The draft report, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun, asserted that the reputation of the agency has been "strained due to the negative exposure regarding concerns of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds."

"I lament the release of a confidential report," Leopold said when asked about the draft.

The public safety committee was conflicted about combining the police and fire 911 call facilities into one center for cost savings. Members agreed that Leopold should study the matter, but he said he has already been consulting with his staff and will make a decision shortly.

In a proposal also consistent with committee suggestions, Leopold said he will put aside money in his first budget so that parents of middle-school students can access Anne Arundel Community College's Parenting Center.

The subcommittee on education wants the school district to consider taking a deeper look into its budget. Committee members felt the district had too many "resource" teachers helping full-time teachers in classrooms, "a luxury the district can't afford" at a time when funding is tight and teacher shortages abound.

Schools spokesman Bob Mosier said the ratio of students to non-instructional staff is 20th among 24 school districts in the state.

"I think to suggest that we're bloated and inefficient is a stretch at the very least," he said. "You've got to support in every way possible. If a teacher's got 150 students [a day] to track, then we need to offer them help."

Sun reporter Ruma Kumar contributed to this article.

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