April 24, 2009

Austerity hampers Balto. Co. schools

The Baltimore Sun's editorial on Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s fiscal competence offers a simplistic view of the county's financial planning ("Austerity pays off," editorial," April 16).

As the county executive nears the end of his tenure, schools are suffering from poor decisions made when Baltimore County was flush with revenue.

The county executive presides over a school system with many highly overcrowded elementary schools.

Last year, Baltimore County finally agreed to construct a new West Towson Elementary School, but only after hundreds of outraged parents demonstrated against severe school overcrowding.

In 2003 and 2004, when Baltimore County had hundreds of millions in surplus funds, the county executive ignored pleas from community leaders and parents to buy land for new schools in growth areas such as White Marsh.

By 2008, it was apparent that action was needed to relieve high school overcrowding, but the county executive instead continued his policy of seeking to build additions to existing schools.

The county executive tried to push through an addition to Loch Raven High School last year, even though no other agency supported the proposal. Only when the Board of Public Works demanded a review of the addition was the project abandoned.

As Mr. Smith nears the end of his tenure, many schools also lack basic air conditioning. While all public schools in Howard, Carroll and Anne Arundel counties are air-conditioned, barely 40 percent of Baltimore County schools are cooled.

The heat index in classrooms at Ridgely Middle School reached 108, 105 and 103 in three classrooms last fall.

The next county executive will inherit a public school system facing many physical challenges. Let us hope that he or she makes the proper investments in more economically robust times.

Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, Towson

David Marks, Perry Hall

The writers are, respectively, a member of the PTA at Ridgely Middle School and Loch Raven High School and the past president of the Northeast Area Educational Advisory Council for the Baltimore County schools.

Writers show bias against disabled

Marc Maurer's column "Bias against blind book lovers" (Commentary, April 14) really hit home for me.

My organization runs a free lending library of Christian books on tape for the blind or disabled. One of our clients is a sighted person allergic to the ink in books who cannot read any literature himself. He relies on books on tape.

For the Authors Guild to suggest that he is not permitted to have a book read to him violates freedom of speech.

Its action is discrimination against the blind and disabled.

They need to examine their hearts and ask, "If I were blind, would I want to be treated this way?"

Bill Wippel, SeaTac, Wash.

The writer is executive director of Tape Ministries Northwest.

Love of reading must start early

Nancy Schnog's column on using the high school English classroom to create the desire to read and get students to read more broadly left me with two thoughts: one, that this is a very admirable, creative movement, and two, that a love of reading should start with the parents and be reinforced in school, beginning in kindergarten ("Preventing 'readicide,'" Commentary, April 19).

My love of reading began in first grade, when my parents took me to the library every Monday evening. I became completely captivated by books and their power in the third grade, when my mother recommended Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper.

These days, I usually have 10 or 12 books on my nightstand.

I thank Ms. Schnog for her efforts in this important movement.

Annamarie DeCarlo, Annapolis

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