Acknowledging the sparse turn-out of about a dozen residents at his March 18 Town Hall Community Meeting at the South Carroll Senior Center, in Eldersburg, County Commissioner Doug Howard jokingly confessed that he'd considered ways to drum up more excitement for the Monday evening session.
"I asked Commissioner (Richard) Rothschild to come debate me on education, but that didn't work out," Howard said, referring to his fellow commissioner from District 4 who advocates for cuts to the county school budget that Howard opposes.
"Then we thought about having a debate with an empty chair (in Rothschild's absence), but that didn't work out either," he added with a grin.
Nonetheless, Howard used the meeting to revisit the school budget, which has become a hot issue among county residents.
It has also created a schism on the five-member commissioner board between those who want to reduce the budget and those such as Howard who don't.
"You can't take $40 million out of the school system" over a period of years "and not have an impact," he said.
As he has in the past, Howard stressed that teachers' salaries in Carroll County already lag behind those in surrounding counties, whether future cuts to the budget are made or not.
He pointed out that Century High School, in South Carroll, recently won an award as a Blue Ribbon School.
But at the same time, he was told by Century's administrators that 20 percent of the school's teachers have asked for referrals so they can seek jobs in other counties.
"They (the teachers) have doubts about whether we respect them and appreciate them," he said. "It's a very difficult job.
"We've got to be mindful about falling too far behind," he said. "If you start losing teachers and not keeping up with technology and letting (school) buildings go too long without necessary maintenance, it ends up costing even more."
Update from Sykesville
Howard invited Sykesville's Main Street Manager Ivy Wells to the meeting to give an update events in that South Carroll town.
Wells said the town has made the strides in its ongoing program to enhance its Main Street and she encouraged those who attended Monday night's meeting to visit and shop there.
"Shopping in Sykesville isn't like shopping at the Wal-Mart or the mall in Westminster," Wells said, referring to the town's small but eclectic assortment of retail shops. "It's an experience — something you can spend a day doing."
Wells said that volunteers have logged more than 1500 hours in the past year, working on everything from planting a new community garden, planting additional flowers and shrubs around town and painting the porch of Baldwin's Station (the 19th-century B&O Railroad Station, which houses Baldwin's Restaurant and is owned by the town).
Wells also reeled off an ambitious schedule of upcoming activities and programs designed to increased foot traffic in Sykesville.
These include "Mimosas on Main Street," during which visitors sip mimosas and enjoy live music as they shop on Main Street between noon and 4 p.m.
On March 29, the town will host its annual Easter Egg Hunt at Millard Cooper Park.
On Saturday, April 20, Sykesville will host its Earth Day celebration from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., at the Warfield Complex Park. The afternoon will include a tree planting and educational activities, including a "Trout Rodeo" and "Electro-fishing."
On May 5, from noon until 5 p.m., Sykesville will host its 2013 Fine Art Wine Festival.
May 10 will kick off a new series called "Second Fridays Wine & Food Main Street Concerts."
The monthly series on Main Street is to run monthly through August.
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