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Nothing Odd About Gorman Road FightThe editorial...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Nothing Odd About Gorman Road Fight

The editorial titled "Odd Twist: Fighting a New School" (Feb. 23) offered a misleading view of what the residents of Gorman Road are trying to accomplish with regard to the proposed plans for the school site. The residents are not trying to "block" the proposed schools. In fact, they have clearly stated they want the schools built on this site. The residents recognize that the schools are needed, and they feel the schools would be "good neighbors."

The residents are certainly not "fighting the schools." Nor are they questioning the Department of Education's proposals because they "simply don't like change," as suggested in the editorial.

The Gorman Road residents are concerned about the current school site proposals because they feel insufficient attention has been paid to environmental and traffic safety issues. They believe the schools can be built without damaging the environment and without creating traffic safety problems. The citizens are "mobilizing" because they feel county officials have not yet explored all reasonable options for developing the school site in ways that serve these other valid goals as well.

The issues the Gorman Road residents are asking county officials to consider more carefully are the following:

* The proposed school site is in the center of a very small area zoned "Residential Environmental Development and Preservation Area." County laws define such areas as having "a high proportion of sensitive environmental and/or historic resources," and state that "protection of environmental resources is to be achieved by minimizing the amount of site disturbance and directing development to the most appropriate areas of a site, away from sensitive resources." The residents want the schools to be built. They are asking only that county officials plan the school site and related development in accordance with these directives.

* The 1.8-mile section of Gorman Road directly affected by the current proposals is designated as a scenic road. Existing county law provides for controls over changes made to scenic roads and to developments along such roads. More importantly, as anyone who has driven this stretch of Gorman can attest, even current traffic levels on this narrow "twisty" road create safety concerns. Such problems would greatly increase if Gorman Road is used as the main access to the school site, as currently proposed. Given the topography of the area, it is questionable whether the extensive road improvements necessary to make Gorman Road a safe main access to the schools are even feasible. At the least, such road improvements would ruin the scenic character of Gorman Road forever.

* There is a rather obvious alternative to making Gorman Road the main access to the school site -- the so-called "loop road" shown on the Highways Map 2010 of the Howard County 1990 General Plan. This loop road is scheduled for near-term construction, and the residents think it's sensible to link the new loop road with plans for the school site's development. This would also help soothe the residents' qualms about environmental protection and traffic safety.

* The 145-year-old house located on the school site is a major element of the history and "scenic" nature of Gorman Road. Residents feel it makes no sense to destroy this house to build the largest school parking lot. The parking lot could be placed elsewhere on the site, thus saving both the house itself and its contribution to the history and scenic nature of the area.

These are the things Gorman Road residents are asking the Department of Education and other county agencies to address more completely. The residents feel their concerns are valid and their requests reasonable.

Contrary to the editorial's statement that many of the people involved in this community's response to the school site are "recent arrivals" to the area, a number of the people who have testified at hearings have lived on Gorman Road for more than 30 years. One individual's family has lived on Gorman Road since pre-Civil War days.

Not mentioned in the editorial is the fact that the citizens of southeastern Howard County have actively fought to protect what little remains of this scenic and environmentally fragile area. In recent years, residents of this area have testified about a State Highway Administration proposal for a major truck stop facility; about Department of Planning and Zoning proposals for road construction on Gorman and Murray Hill roads, and about developer-requested mixed-use development zoning changes.

Community participation in county planning is an avowed goal of both county politicians and the 1990 General Plan. The residents of Gorman Road are trying to participate. Please don't tune us out.

Gregory K. Fries

Laurel

Bus Driver Alert

What is it going to take to get the school bus contractors, drivers, attendants and support personnel to band together for a common goal?

How much has to be at stake? Are we going to sit back and let our elected officials threaten to take away the one and only benefit we have access to -- the modified version of the health insurance coverage that all other school employees take for granted?

We sat back and let them cut down the cash benefit option. We whine when they initiate one-year contracts. Now they want our health benefits? In the scheme of things, this may not be a big deal (especially considering the percentage of our income that goes into paying for these policies), but somewhere we have to draw the line.

Contractors, get it together. If you don't like the one-year contracts, work together. And if you want good, reliable drivers, support them. Encourage them. Represent them.

Drivers and attendants, stand up for yourselves. Write your school board members. Go to their meetings. Let yourself be heard. Don't just sit back and hope someone does the job for you.

Remember, you are all very valuable commodities. People willing to earn their commercial drivers license, keep their records spotless and work with children in the dangerous environment of today's roads are not second-class citizens and should not allow themselves to be treated as such. We are professionals. We do our job and we do it well. The "exclusive" Howard County public school system could not function properly without us.

And we have the right, if not the obligation, to help in the process of determining where our tax dollars are spent. Sure, some of you reside outside the county, but the vast majority of you are hard-working, taxpaying, Howard County residents. It's a shame that in this, one of the most affluent counties in the country, we have to beg for basic human services, but we must. Let's all work together to insure our needs are understood.

Norene M. Parker

Ellicott City

Why Busing

I am asking you and everyone that reads this to try to understand: Our school and other nonpublic schools in Howard County need busing.

One week last year, we didn't have busing because it was the public schools' spring vacation. Our school had to car-ool. It was very confusing, hard and most of all scary, for fear of getting run over by all the cars in the parking lot. Please imagine how difficult it would be to drive your kids to and from school Monday through Friday, 180 days a year?

Our principal, Sister Mary Catherine, has tried to adjust our school schedule to the public school calendar so that we can have busing as many days as possible. Without busing, getting to and from school would be very difficult for many of us.

Alexandra Maunz

Clarksville

The writer is a sixth-grader at St. Louis School.

. . . And Why Not

I hope you will permit me to respond to the letters of Marcia Croteau and Seo Hee Ko that appeared in The Sun on March 12.

Ms. Croteau draws strange conclusions in criticizing my previously expressed views on parochial school busing. Seo Hee Ko, on the other hand, cites a 1943 law as justification for continued county funding of this and says that many parochial school parents "scrimp and save so they can give their children a better education."

If Ms. Croteau isn't able to understand my logic, hers makes no sense whatever to me. Nobody I know is saying that those who choose not to use our public schools should be disqualified from getting all other county services or that anyone should not be allowed to receive religious materials via the U.S. Postal Service. Indeed, I would defend the right of anyone to receive through the U.S. mail any materials that would not cause real physical harm.

But public schools and services should be seen in a different light than nonpublic (private or religious) schools and services.

Our taxes go to support the former, and they are fully available for our use. However, those who seek "a better education" than they think can be found in our public schools (and choose to make use of an alternative) should be willing to pay the full cost of their self-assumed tab. That same logic goes for private fire services, private police protection or private mail delivery service.

As for the 1943 law, it should be understood that it specifically entitles parochial school children only to ride along on the public school bus routes. The County Board of Education has been "generously" interpreting the law to treat five particular parochial schools almost as if they were public schools for busing purposes. Moreover, there is an official opinion of the county office of law that found the 1943 law defective and unlikely to survive a legal challenge because it conferred busing rights only to children who attend parochial schools (and not other private school users).

. . . I will gladly pay my fair share of the cost of providing an excellent education to all comers in our public schools. But neither I nor any other taxpayer should be required to pay any part of the cost of transporting anyone to their place of religious education or indoctrination.

Kenneth A. Stevens

Savage

Cancer Fighters

This letter is to commend former Gov. William Donald #F Schaefer and Gov. Parris Glendening for their outstanding leadership in the smoking control movement and to encourage similar leadership by the Maryland General Assembly.

For more than 20 years, the health organizations of Maryland tried unsuccessfully to get tobacco control legislation passed by the General Assembly because the assembly leadership was co-opted by the big-spending tobacco lobbyists, as evidenced by the recent fraud conviction of the state's top tobacco lobbyist.

We turned to the executive branch of the government and, under Mr. Schaefer, a regulation was enacted that bans smoking in all Maryland workplaces. The tobacco industry took the state to court. But in a major setback for the industry, the court ruled in favor of the regulation. On March 2, Mr. Glendening demonstrated genuine concern for the health of Maryland citizens when he strongly endorsed the regulation. . . .

The tobacco industry has now turned again to their co-opted legislative leaders to enact legislation that would pre-empt the regulation. Those leaders are jumping through hoops with "emergency legislation" to serve their benefactors. This is precisely the kind of activity that former state Sen. Victor Crawford said he engaged in during his tenure in the General Assembly and later as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry.

Mr. Crawford, who is presently dying of cancer at age 60, has turned against the industry and is currently exposing the dirty tricks and pandering to the assembly leaders that he and others practiced. Mr. Crawford has stated in the media that he and the industry knew they were pushing a harmful addictive product but that the pay was very good. He feels deep remorse at the larger number of deaths and hooked children that may have resulted from his actions. He is now trying to make amends by endorsing and speaking out in support of the regulation.

I urge all members of the General Assembly to heed his message. Please show real leadership and concern for your constituents by voting against any attempts to weaken the current regulations.

John H. O'Hara

Bowie

Make Growth Pay

The current tug-of-war between the Howard County Council and school board on the capital and operating budgets for education points up the need for new ways of providing affordable growth.

The county executive and council have pointed out that the county has limited funds to support new school construction and the costs of staffing and operating schools. The dilemma is that without sufficient capital and operating funds, increased enrollments from growth crowd schools and may affect the quality of education for students. Zoning decisions which accelerate growth decrease the quality of services in all areas, including roads, public safety, recreation and education as well as in many intangible areas unless adequate resources are provided for public facilities and programs.

In the education area, a first step is for the school board to refocus on essential education. This means priority for direct classroom instruction and a reduction in the number of supporting staff. Supporting positions have been a major factor in staff growth in recent years, a trend that should be reversed.

To quote Stan Sallett, a former board member, "the merely important is the enemy of the essential." Basic classroom instruction must be the essential service. In the capital area, workable school designs should be reused and improved through incremental design changes based primarily on the experience of in-school teaching staff to reduce the cost of new construction.

A second critical step, however, is that the executive and council recognize the cost of growth on the county's ability to pay at all points in the planning and rezoning processes.

As a start, an effective "adequate facilities ordinance" should be adopted by the council. An effective facilities ordinance should transfer the cost of building schools and other capital projects related to development to those who benefit from the development. Developer funding of capital projects through aid-in-construction funds should be required prior to approval of the development and fund-receipt required prior to construction. . .

A third step concerns the long-term financial stability of the county. An economic impact statement should be required for each proposed development project. This impact statement should be prepared by the executive, reviewed by the council and made available to all citizens.

It should summarize the projected costs of all services to be provided through the operating budget to support the proposed project, as well as any tax revenues which the project is expected to produce. The impact statement should also identify any differences between projected revenues and expenditures over a 10-year period based on the current tax rate. Moreover, as a condition of approval of any new development, the executive ** and council should stipulate how any shortfalls between revenues and expenses will be paid for.

Both of these proposals have precedents. In the process leading to the approval of Columbia's development in the mid-1960s, a developer's agreement was executed by the Howard Research and Development Corp. to "pre-service" community facilities.

Here, pre-servicing meant that the developer constructed community facilities before the completion of new residential construction in order to provide services to new residents and to minimize the impact on existing residents. While that agreement did not include direct support of school construction, it did include donation of land for school sites.

A primary reason that school construction costs were excluded from the pre-servicing agreement was the existence of a Maryland State School Construction program which paid for the construction of new schools in local jurisdictions, including Howard County. As a result, the Howard County capital budget was only minimally impacted by the cost of new facilities to accommodate development.

This is no longer the case. Howard County taxpayers must now finance the construction of all county facilities needed to accommodate growth, including new schools. If these facilities are not constructed in a timely manner, the growth will impact the quality of life and the financial health of the county. This is unacceptable. If the county cannot support such facilities, it should reduce growth and require pre-servicing of facilities.

The Columbia development process also provides a guide to dealing with the impact of growth on the county's operating budget. A key part of the Columbia planning process was the development of an economic model which integrated residential, commercial and industrial development.

This model had as one of its goals making growth financially self-supporting with no adverse tax burden on existing residents. While the economic model was modified over the years as conditions changed in the national and local economies, that general goal was met. The cost of the enormous development Howard County has experienced over the past 30 years has been paid largely through the development itself, not by the average citizen.

In fact, the tax rate in 1995 is only marginally higher than what it was in 1970 thanks to that planning. However, Columbia now represents a diminishing fraction of the current and projected growth and its economic model cannot be expected to carry the county forward. What is needed is a new economic model for development that is prepared by the county government and approved by its citizens as the basis of a development strategy which will minimize adverse tax impacts on current resident, assure timely, adequate facilities and maintain the quality of life. An economic impact statement for all new development is one step in the direction of the development of such a plan.

For many years Howard County believed that citizens should control the physical, cultural and community development of the county. This implies that control of growth is a legislative function to be exercised for the common good. The countywide referendum that approved Columbia's development is an example of that legislative process in action.

I believe that the sense of citizen control of the county's growth and development, both physical and institutional, has been eroded through neglect and must be revitalized. In particular, citizens should become directly involved in controlling county growth and should as a minimum expect that the county government will match approval of any development with the capital and operating funds the development will require.

Citizens should also demand that they not be forced to bear the cost of new development either financially or in reduced services. . . . The recent referendum allowing citizen review of planning and zoning decisions is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it is a blunt instrument. A commitment by the county government to adequate growth control is both preferred and needed.

John C. Murphy

Clarksville

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