Residents Make Their Case to County Council for School, Library Funding
More than 40 people, including Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen, spoke during the second hearing on the county executive's proposed budget for fiscal year 2012.
Some of the people speaking at the budget hearing in county council chambers Wednesday night suggested a move seldom heard in that room—raise county income taxes.
The suggestion came from several speakers who were grappling with shrinking funding in the face of deterioriating, overpacked schools. The message was clear—don't mess with the county executive's proposed spending plan for county schools and the library system.
While the amounts in County Executive John R. Leopold's budget proposal may not be what everyone would like to see, many residents said they wanted to make sure their schools, the library system and even area roads, didn't see their funding cut any more.
The overriding fear among the parents and supporters in the audience was that if the county council decided to cut even more money from the proposed budget, construction and renovation projects at their schools would be pushed back even more.
More than 40 people spoke to the council, split among supporters for continued and increased funding for schools and libraries.
On Monday, 25 people spoke at what was the first part of the budget hearing process at Old Mill High School. Anyone who spoke at Monday’s meeting was not permitted to speak Wednesday night since it was a continuation of the same meeting.
The people speaking Wednesday were split between support for the libraries and support for the schools.
Rolling Knolls Elementary fifth-grader Grace Dixon took a seat in front of the council and asked its members to imagine a work place that is similar to her school.
“Imagine if you had to go to work every day and share an office with 32 other people and this office was a trailer, separate from the main building where most people worked,” she said. “Imagine if you had to face the weather, no matter how snowy, rainy, windy or cold just to get into the building, or even just to go to the bathroom.”
She talked about being put of out her portable classroom after finding mold in it and not being able to hear the teacher over the window air-conditioning unit. It was a tale that was echoed about her school and several others throughout the two-hour meeting.
“Our school is just out of space,” Grace said. “Closets have been turned into classrooms. Assistants and parent volunteers have to work with kids in the hallways. The conditions are not good for learning. And not all of the students can actually fit into our building.”
As part of Leopold’s budget proposal, Rolling Knolls is slated to have a portion of its $2.012 million feasibility study for a new school funded in the fiscal 2012 budget.
The proposal includes $746,000 for the study—but nothing yet for the design.
Leopold has proposed a more than $1.19 billion budget, along with a $311 million capital budget. The operating budget is a nearly $18 million increase over last year’s amount.
Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen spoke of the strides many of the city’s schools have made in recent years, such as the magnet program at Bates Middle School.
He urged the council to not just worry about the next budget but to consider how the county is going to at least maintain the schools, let alone improve them in years to come.
“When you look down the road, the projected revenue just can’t pay for the education system parents in this county expect and deserve,” he said. “Our income tax is the lowest of the big eight (counties in the states), but you also get what you pay for.”
That is when Cohen asked the council to consider increasing the county’s income tax. That notion was echoed several times throughout the evening.
Shaunda Franklin, who has two children attending Mills-Parole Elementary School, stressed that the school is packed.
The school’s capacity level is 401 students, she said. It now enrolls 510 students.
Mills-Parole is in a similar situation as Rolling Knolls since Leopold’s proposal suggests funding $814,000 of its $2.19 million feasibility study, but not the design.
“We are very overcrowded,” said Makayla Simms, a fourth-grader at Mills-Parole.
She then told the council of being forced to trudge from her portable classroom to the main building in the weather just to go to the bathroom—only to have to stand in line because the bathrooms are always nearly full.
Susan Dyckman of the Severna Park High School PTSO pushed for the nearly $3.6 million for the continuation of the feasibility study for a new high school to remain in the budget.
“We’ve waited patiently over the years,” she said.
Heather Macintosh, president of the Annapolis Elementary PTO, said the school's building is in dire need of renovation, adding that school has made academic strides in the past several years.
She asked that the council stick to the prioritized construction schedule and fund the work as set forth, even though Annapolis Elementary isn’t slated to receive money in fiscal 2012.
“Let’s let our schools continue to do what’s working,” Macintosh said.
Standing up for the Library
Hall Worthington, vice president of the Anne Arundel County Library Board of Trustees, asked the council to support the funding Leopold has proposed.
The library system’s operating budget is slated to increase to $18.5 million from $15.3 million, though it was reported earlier that the increase comes at the expense of the library’s capital budget.
Still, it’s an increase Worthington urged the council not to change.
“This helps us to keep the doors open and the shelves fully stocked,” he said.
To drive home the point the importance and popularity of the library, Worthington turned to the audience.
“Everyone who has a library card, please stand up,” he said.
Everyone in the room did.
Editor's note: Heather Macintosh is a Patch contributor.