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Hefty bill to repair schools; Anne Arundel: Politicians must take committee's report on $417 million problem more seriously.

REPAIRING Anne Arundel County schools will cost $417 million, according to a preliminary report by the Citizens' Committee on the Renovation and Maintenance of Public Schools. The county cannot run and hide from this problem. Of 117 county schools, 45, or 38 percent, are more than 30 years old. That's typical of older suburban jurisdictions such as Baltimore and Montgomery counties. Bathrooms and cafeterias need to be upgraded. Classrooms don't have sufficient outlets to accommodate computers and other electronic equipment that have become necessary for instruction. Dismissing the committee's recommendations to increase taxes to finance the bill -- as some elected officials have done out of hand -- is counterproductive. Obviously, the 39 members, appointed by former County Executive John G. Gary, would have preferred to propose a painless way to pay for repairs, but, alas, they are mere humans, not magicians. Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens has asked the state for $50 million. The county will be extremely lucky to obtain half that amount, considering that the governor's budget for school construction statewide is roughly $250 million. The county must rely on its own resources to pay a great portion of this bill. The committee made a number of plausible suggestions. Now it is up to officials to determine which method would make the best policy -- from floating more bonds to raising the piggyback income tax. The money doesn't have to be raised in one or two years. What the county needs is a 15-year repair plan that is adequately funded. Were this task simple, it would have been done years ago. Lawmakers have to be honest with constituents. Repairing schools costs money. Residents want it done, and the problem can no longer be ignored.

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