From: Kenneth A. Stevens
Once again, the Howard County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is impelled to question the legality and desirability of the Howard County superintendent of schools' budget request for transportation to non-public schools.
This year, with the addition of Glenelg Country School to the program of county taxpayer-funded busing, this budget item would go beyond parochial or religious schools for the first time. That, at least, permits the board to escape a potential charge of discrimination against non-religious privateschools. But the 1943 law on which this whole program is based is itself of dubious validity because (as the county Office of Law has said previously) it specifically confers rights only upon children who attend parochial schools.
Past boards could have ignored that religious law if they had wanted to do, but, instead, we have a situation where all non-public schools are beginning to get into the act and, if this budget is approved, the cost to county taxpayers from FY92 to FY93 would more than double. And there are still more non-public schools out there who might venture to have county taxpayers foot the bill for their transportation costs, too.
It has been alleged that the transportation cost per child would be the same for public and non-public schools, but there is no way that the interested citizen and taxpayer of Howard County can verify that.
In past years, the proposed budgets included estimates of the number of students who would beserved. The budget for FY93 provides no such figures.
In the years before this one, the per-pupil transportation cost to taxpayers wasmuch higher for the parochial school program. It would be nice to see figures that show, at least, we are not headed back in that direction. I assume that some estimate of the numbers of public and non-public school children who would be served must have been used to arrive at the budget estimates for these items. Regardless of how much guesswork is involved, can't the citizenry have those estimates?
If theboard will not limit its funding only to public schools, we would hope that you will scale the non-public program back to the minimum that is specifically covered by the 1943 law: the right to ride along the public school bus routes for whatever child.
(Kenneth A. Stevensis the coordinator of the Howard County Chapter ACLU of Maryland.)
AVOTE FOR SWEENEY
From: Gary S. Peklo
The selection of Circuit Court judges should not be subjected to the electoral process unless an unqualified individual slips through the existing rigorous appointment process and ends up being appointed by a governor.
Having said that and regardless of that opinion, I would like to note that on March 3 voters in both parties will see three nameson their ballots for the election of a Circuit Court judge. The eventual winner will serve 15 years as a Circuit Court trial judge who will preside over all types of jury and non-jury trials.
Out of the three candidates, Judge Dennis Sweeney is a known quantity. He has undergone the thorough application and review process which resulted inhis appointment last year. The others have not. Citizens and attorneys who have been in his courtroom have had the opportunity to witnessthe fact that his qualifications and abilities, which were recognized by the Howard County Judicial Nominating Commission (comprised of country residents and attorneys) and the governor, are real.
Certainly there is the right for any attorney to run against a sitting judge for any reason -- political, social or otherwise. However, there are, among other things, two major considerations that the voting public must think about.
One is that if something is not broken or faulty, why try to fix it and run the risk of creating a lesser situation?
Another consideration is that when additional vacancies become available, well-qualified applicants may very well pass up the opportunity to serve. They will know that someone out there could place themin the very awkward position of having to run an election campaign while at the same time maintaining proper judicial independence and non-partisanship.
I have lived in Howard County for over 20 years and I have practiced law in Howard County for over 18 years. I feel that contested judicial elections, unless there is the need to correct afaulty appointment, is unhealthy for the perpetuation of what has been and should continue to be non-partisan judicial performance by ourjudges.
For the above reasons, I shall vote for Judge Dennis Sweeney on March 3 and I encourage everyone else to do the same. It is the right and prudent thing to do.
BLACK STUDENTS HURT
From: Walt Sears
The proposed 1993 Howard County school budget includes extensive cuts in activities and services that directly impact students and classrooms.
I addressed the school board on behalf of the BSAP (Black Student Achievement Program), which is in real jeopardy of being destroyed by the school board's current and future plans.Also testifying for the BSAP were other concerned parents, students and community leaders.
These were emphatic, impassioned testimonies which conveyed the extreme gravity of our sentiments. Apparently, several members of the school board felt intimidated and threatened bythe presentations.
That's unfortunate, but that's OK. It's OK, because our children feel threatened and intimidated every day in schools which treat their ethnicity like some sort of embarrassing aberration.
It's OK, because intimidation is what black parents feel whenwe see a school system so proud of its successes that it is willing to ignore and sacrifice black children who are still struggling.
It's OK, because threatened is what we as a community feel when we seea system financed with our dollars turn against an entire generationof promising black children. The Howard County school board felt threatened because they sensed our rage at the injustice of a system that spends $250 on each "gifted and talented" student, yet wants to cutthe paltry $60 it spends on each BSAP student.
If we seem threatening, it's because this is a life and death struggle. We are fightingfor the very lives of our children. We're fighting for the future ofthis country. We don't want the school board to be threatened or intimidated. We want it to be just, responsible and responsive to the educational needs of its students -- especially black students. So, where can the school board make the needed budget cuts?
They should take a very good look at the structure and organization of our board of education's central office. That office is replete with executive supervisors supervising the efforts of other supervisors. What do theyhave to do with education? Very little. These people don't touch thelives of our children. Their impact on the educational process is screened, filtered and virtually lost by three or more levels of bureaucratic minutia and administrative trivia. There's over $500,000 in salaries and benefits wrapped up in these positions.
We want the school board to do the right thing. Keep our school psychologists, athletics, bands and the Black Student Achievement Program, because these people and programs touch our students' lives every day, and they make a difference. Let's cut the fluff out of the central office and make the remaining administrators pick up the slack and operate more efficiently.
(Walt Sears is the assistant executive director of HHELP, Helping Hands Enrichment Leadership Program.)