School-meeting plan sparks ire of GOP; 2 on council say they were left out; Democrats disagree


The Howard County Council's two Republicans complain they've been left out of plans for a public meeting to brainstorm ideas for improving schools with image problems.

"The Democrats are really trying to get political mileage out of this," said Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon -- a charge Democrats deny.

The Democrats say they took the lead in calling a meeting because the schools under discussion are in or near Columbia, not in the areas represented by the Republicans.

But the Republicans don't buy that.

"The Democrats realize that Chris and I have a pro-education image," said Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, accusing the opposition party of trying to reclaim the issue for their own political purposes.

"We represent 40 percent of the county. They don't want that 40 percent represented," Kittleman said yesterday. "If we really want to fix the problem, we've got to do it together."

Kittleman said the Oct. 18 meeting is "not a bad idea," and both Republicans said they plan to attend.

The meeting was conceived by C. Vernon Gray, the council chairman, and Guy J. Guzzone, Democrats who represent portions of east Columbia.

County Executive James N. Robey and west Columbia Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung, also Democrats, are participating, too.

The officials are reacting partly to recent reports of parents sending dozens of children from the Wilde Lake Middle School district to the new Lime Kiln Middle School. That's another instance of a long-standing trend in which many parents, mostly white and generally affluent, have forsaken older Columbia schools for schools they view as better. The older schools generally have increasing concentrations of minority and lower-income students and lower standardized test scores.

County school board members have also complained about the meeting's timing, saying it will be hard for them to attend, since the board has an unrelated meeting scheduled at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at board headquarters, an hour after the council's meeting is to begin.

Despite that, school Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said he and Stephen C. Bounds, the board's vice chairman, plan to attend, and welcome the help.

"We believe that their interests are essentially good ones and we welcome the chance to sit down with all branches of county government and talk about these issues along with the community," Hickey said. "We would have solved these issues a long time ago if they were simple."

The Democrats, who have made it clear they are not satisfied with the school officials' response to schools perceived as having problems, said they are not trying to exclude anyone, and deny any political motives.

"It was about Columbia schools, and we're the people who represent Columbia schools," Guzzone said. "There's no political agenda here. I think the issues are more important than trying to create partisan divisions, and it's just upsetting to hear that," he said, about the Republicans' comments.

Gray, who with Robey is on his way to China for two weeks on a trip sponsored by the National Association of Counties, said everyone is welcome at the meeting, which he characterized as a public discussion, not a formal County Council meeting. "They're trying to be political," he said about the Republicans. "I'm not being political at all."

Lorsung said she approached Gray about participating after he mentioned the idea in a Sept. 7 meeting of the council and school board. She said the Republicans could have asked to be included as she did.

Pub Date: 10/05/99

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