Why is Howard County paying for prom parties?

March 18, 2010

On the front page of the Howard section in the March 14th Baltimore Sun, Howard County budget director Raymond S. Wacks told the county council that we are facing a $20 million deficit, instead of the $13 million deficit projected two weeks prior. "How are we finding $20 million?" asked council Chairwoman Courtney Watson.

On the next page, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman is praised for giving each of the county's 12 high schools $2,000 each to use for after-prom parties. According to Lin Guba, committee chairwoman for the PTA Council for Howard County's Safe After Prom, each school's average party costs $20,000-$25,000. The article states that schools traditionally hold fundraisers throughout the year to pay for these parties, but Mr. Ulman was approached by a number of parents in the past year asking for financial support from the local government. Apparently these parties are looked upon as necessary to protect the children after the proms themselves; Police Chief William McMahon stated that "these after-prom events are key to keeping our teens safe during the prom season when statistics show traffic deaths among teens are higher than any other time of year."

As a Howard County taxpaying parent, I have the following questions:

If the prom atmosphere creates such deadly consequences, why are we having them in the first place? It doesn't even make sense.

Are our children so spoiled that after such an expensive and lavish evening, they need to be pampered with yet another party -- one that costs $25,000? People are out of work! My own wedding didn't cost that much! We were on a budget!

If the parents really feel the students need to be protected, why can't they have less lavish get-togethers at their homes and have everyone chip in? If no one has a home large enough, can't the school gymnasium be considered? Why does it have to be held at a rented movie theater?

If each PTA can raise $25,000 for a party, why can't that money go toward textbooks or materials the schools really need and cry for? We're talking about $300,000 total! Should the priority toward our children's education be to ensure they have a wonderful party at the end of the year?

I realize that the $24,000 from the county coffers (originally from crime confiscations, but given from the county checking account, nonetheless) is not the complete answer to a $20 million deficit, but the point is, there are countless $24,000 items just like this one, and they add up!

In Trent Kittleman's speech announcing her candidacy for county executive, she mentioned that people think of the government as Santa Claus. These parties are an excellent example of this mindset. If I wish to host a barbecue that I cannot afford, will the county subsidize it? Given the current economic climate, this cannot continue! Howard County needs responsible, sensible, and frugal leadership -- now, more than ever. When you go to the polls this year, please seriously consider whether or not your money (remember, this really is your money) is being spent wisely and on necessary expenses -- or on parties. Santa needs to start closing his sack.

Terri Campbell

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