At a town hall meeting last week, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman criticized the Howard County Public School System's communication with parents about mold in school buildings.
"I do believe the school system has not handled the issue well," Kittleman said. "If you don't talk openly, you lose trust."
Local parents asked Kittleman about mold in schools at the county executive's fourth town hall meeting this year, held at the Lisbon Volunteer Fire Department in western Howard County on Oct. 22.
"Howard County public schools is not being transparent with information," said Jill Berry, who has a child at Glenwood Middle School, where teachers and parents began to go public this summer with concerns that mold in the building was causing headaches, nosebleeds, dizziness and other health symptoms.
Berry said she's posted on the school system's Facebook and Twitter accounts "at least 60 times," but has yet to get a response to her questions.
"It's not right," she said.
Kittleman noted that one of his daughters is a teacher at Glenelg High School, where mold was found on ceiling tiles, and one of his sons is a student there.
"Before I'm a county executive, I'm a parent," he said. "I have a reason to care about this."
Kittleman said he has visited Glenwood, Glenelg and Lisbon Elementary School, where officials recently announced they'd found fungus on the windowsill of a portable classroom. He said he was encouraged by reports of progress at Glenwood and would continue to talk to school system officials and visit school buildings to stay informed.
"I think it's a serious problem, it's something we have to focus on, but I think it's important, also, to get the facts," he said.
New legislation ahead
Kittleman also hinted at some new legislation he hopes to introduce before the end of the year.
One would be an elimination of the stormwater fee, a promise he made on the campaign trail last year. The Maryland General Assembly last session repealed a law mandating the state's nine largest counties and Baltimore City to collect a fee dedicated specifically to funding stormwater management improvements, and just this week, the Baltimore County Council introduced legislation that would phase out the fee for county residents and businesses over a two-year period.
So far, Kittleman has not taken any steps toward getting rid of the fee. Both his transition team and the county's Spending Affordability Committee advised him not to repeal it until he had identified an alternate source for stormwater management projects, which are necessary to meet mandatory federal runoff goals.
Thursday, he said he thinks he's identified an alternate funding source.
"I'm cautiously optimistic we'll be able to announce something and roll back the rain tax" later this year, he said.
Kittleman said he was also working on legislation to modify growth tiers in the county, which limit the density allowed on a parcel based on its location. Tier IV parcels, common in the west, allow "nothing but minor subdivision.
"I see that as taking someone's property without compensation," Kittleman said.
He said he plans to introduce a bill similar to one the County Council passed when growth tiers were first being debated in 2o12. That legislation, which was initially passed by four out of five council members, but was vetoed by then-County Executive Ken Ulman for not going far enough to preserve farmland.
As a result, "schools out here are under capacity," Kittleman said. "To me, it makes sense to give land rights back."
Other topics Thursday night included BRX zoning in Highland, community opposition to a proposed cluster development in Clarksville, pleas for Kittleman's help in connecting some communities to high-speed Internet where carriers have refused to expand and the way in which law enforcement and schools respond to bullying.
Kittleman said he hopes to hold his next town hall meeting sometime in January.