SATURDAY MAILBOX

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Aid to colleges pays dividends for the state

We in independent higher education understand and welcome the questions raised in The Sun's article on the Sellinger program ("Md.'s private colleges fear major cut in state aid," Jan. 30). Legislators and citizens should ask those questions; they should be vigilant about ensuring that their investment is a wise one.

We are confident that, upon close examination, they will conclude that the answer is a resounding "yes."

The Sellinger program was established in 1972 on the recommendation of a commission appointed by the governor to evaluate independent higher education. At that time, several private colleges had failed and the University of Baltimore had been converted to a public institution.

The Pear Commission conducted an in-depth analysis of each private institution. After a year of study, the commission concluded that a modest state investment in independent higher education "is in the best interest of the state [and] taxpayers."

Maryland's relatively modest investment in independent higher education is repaid many times over by relieving pressure on public institutions, creating an educated workforce, attracting research dollars and philanthropy and contributing to cultural enrichment and community service.

Although they receive 3.5 percent of the state's investment in higher education, independent institutions award 26 percent of all degrees in Maryland annually, 48 percent of all master's degrees and 40 percent of all doctorates.

And now more than ever, the state needs an efficient and effective system of higher education that uses both public and private resources to support a solution to our fiscal crisis.

Tina M. Bjarekull

Annapolis

The writer is president of the Maryland Independent College and University Association.

Private colleges, private agendas

The Sun's editorial on state funding of private colleges made some valid points but tiptoed around some salient issues ("Don't mess with Sellinger," Feb. 7).

It hinted that some rich institutions could probably stand a reduction in state aid, but did not ask the basic question of why these rich institutions needed public money at all. We base a great deal of our funding of student scholarships on need. Why don't we fund institutions on a similar basis?

If a private college that fills a public need requires temporary financial assistance, then a case may be made for providing temporary help. Currently, however, all private colleges, even those with huge endowments, simply get their cut of public funds year after year, regardless of need.

And how is public funding of private religiously affiliated colleges different from government vouchers for religious primary or secondary schools or government funding for faith-based charities?

Finally, this funding often puts public money in the hands of institutions that act against the public interest.

My community spent three years fighting Loyola College's plans to build an athletic complex in our midst. Loyola got a sweetheart financial deal from the city, despite almost universal opposition to the project from the community, so our level of cynicism was already pretty high. But as we scraped together funds and took off work to fight the project, Loyola, a college with a large endowment, was also being given our tax dollars.

Regardless of how beneficent these institutions are, they remain private and have private agendas. They may merit public help on a case-by-case basis. But until a degree from a state college commands the same respect as a Johns Hopkins University degree, we should spend the public's money on public colleges.

Jim Emberger

Baltimore

Too much homework puts burden on kids

Having three daughters in the Baltimore County public schools, I was interested to hear about all the different strategies employed to "lighten the load" of student backpacks ("Looking to lighten the load at schools," Feb. 4).

These tactics, however, fail to address the real cause. The reason students have to lug these loads is that schools now require more homework in more subjects than ever. This is especially true for students in gifted and talented and similar programs, who receive a punishing amount of work.

The workload affects students physically. It also adds to mental duress as every evening, and every weekend, students face a continuous onslaught of assignments.

As a working professional, I know how I would feel if I had to work every day, evening and weekend. And in the end, family life suffers as schedules and activities are subjugated to homework.

My suggestion is to "lighten the load" by reducing excessive assignments, which would lift the weight off the backs of students and their families.

Robert Unger

Baltimore

Let local groups fill convention center

I was surprised to learn that the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association (BACVA) is having problems and has met only 18 percent of its annual goal for hotel bookings ("BACVA behind on hotel bookings," Feb. 1).

After the experience of my organization in its attempt to book a convention in Baltimore, we thought the city must be booked solid.

In our quest in 2000 to identify a venue in Baltimore for our 2003 convention, we sent requests for proposals to the convention center and to several Inner Harbor hotels. The replies either quoted astronomical fees or said no dates were available, so we booked our convention elsewhere.

The overpricing and "no room in the inn" response was an indication that Baltimore conference facilities would rather hold out for larger business from national accounts than book smaller local conferences. This is not uncommon practice in the meetings industry, but is it good business?

Local groups recognize Baltimore as an important, appealing, centralized conference location. And there's no need to build an image or establish a reputation with us - we know and like our city.

Local organizations also would assuredly represent repeat convention business for Baltimore. And many local organizations are chapters of large national groups, so accommodating us would plant important seeds for future, larger conventions.

Maybe BACVA should consider that turning away sure, steady, local (albeit smaller) business in hope of securing elusive larger accounts is not such a good idea.

Esther Rae Barr

Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Maryland Academy of Family Physicians.

Tax credits stem sprawl, revive cities

I was dismayed to learn Maryland legislators may end the Heritage Rehabilitation Tax Credit, a cost-effective program that has become a national model for cities trying to stem sprawl and save older communities ("House Democrats list potential tax increases," Feb. 5).

The program, which provides a 20 percent tax refund for certain improvements to certified historic properties, has led to significant revitalization in communities across the state, from Baltimore to Frostburg and Chestertown.

The tax incentives are not just for large commercial developers. Homeowners can tap this resource to improve their neighborhoods, one house at a time. A prime example is Baltimore's Mount Vernon, where the program has spurred dozens of homeowners to invest in an established city community.

A recent report advises legislators that they can save $23 million by killing the program. However, all state costs related to this program, for this year and next year, have already been committed to projects now in the pipeline. Killing this important program would save nothing until 2005 or 2006.

And the program's beauty is that, although Maryland sacrifices income initially, the state eventually generates revenue through increased property, piggyback and sales taxes. A study has shown that future revenues from commercial tax credit projects far outweigh the state's up-front investment.

These tax credits provide a desirable alternative to sprawl while rejuvenating our older communities. And, ultimately, they make money for the state.

Eliminating this program is not the answer to our budget woes.

Ed Hord

Baltimore

The writer is a principal in the architecture firm Hord Coplan Macht and a past president of the Baltimore and Maryland chapters of the American Institute of Architects.

Give O'Malley time to make 311 work

The Sun's article on Baltimore City's 311 work request system was very good investigative reporting ("Phony 'fixes' inflate 311 system's record," Feb. 4). However, it did not seem to appreciate just how hard it can be to improve a maintenance management program such as Baltimore's 311 call-in system.

The mayor and his management team are moving in the right direction by using the CitiStat system to measure public service responsiveness.

Systematic performance measurement is a proven way to improve results in all sorts of organizations - private and public. And in changing organizational behavior, most managers find "you get what you inspect, not necessarily what you expect."

But city department heads have, unfortunately, failed to implement a random auditing process that keeps the reports they receive honest. Under such an approach, workers would never know which of their "completed" work orders would be audited, and would have little choice but to be honest.

Such an approach, coupled with steep job penalties for falsifying reports (e.g., immediate dismissal), would create the reliability the mayor's management team needs.

Private sector entities such as manufacturing plants frequently struggle with improving maintenance operations. Such initiatives can often take 18 months to 24 months to turn performance around.

Since the difficulties the mayor is facing are much greater, why don't we give him and his team more time to iron out the kinks?

David Buttner

Baltimore

Slots keep dollars closer to home

The opponents of slot machines at racetracks here in Maryland have succeeded in thoroughly clouding the question by raising objections that have no relevance to the real issues - objections over exactly how much revenue can be expected or how that revenue will be shared or whether gambling on slots is somehow more evil than horse race gambling or state lottery gambling.

But the one true issue is that Marylanders are going to play the slots; they already are going by the busload to Delaware, West Virginia and even New Jersey to do so. And if they are going to play, why not let them do so in Maryland and stop shipping Maryland revenue to our sister states?

And if this is so, what difference does it make if the revenue gain is x million dollars or y million dollars? Or exactly how much a beneficiary will receive? Slots would still give the state more revenue than it has now.

So isn't it time to look at the reality of the slots issue: Money staying in Maryland vs. money leaving Maryland?

Malcolm L. Jacobson

Baltimore

Family would accept a slice of slots pie

There's been a lot of talk in this paper about distributing the proceeds of slot machines, and I'd like to get a piece of the action as well.

In general, gambling is an unwholesome activity that should be discouraged. I'd no sooner subject adults to the temptation and abuse of slots than recommend the installation of slots in school lunchrooms.

But it would be puritanical to take such a rigid, inflexible stand on principle. Although I stand against slots philosophically, I'd be willing to change my position if the state would make it worth my while.

I understand that the horse racing industry should be supported because it is a quaint, charming and picturesque activity. My family is quaint, charming and picturesque as well, and I propose that the state provide 1 percent of all revenues directly to my family.

It's a modest proposal, and I think with a little behind-the-scenes legislative maneuvering, it could be accomplished without too much notice in the newspapers.

Jeff Chamblee

Columbia

Balto. Co. zoning favors developers

The recent article about the potential demolition of a quaint old house in Ruxton is a classic example of not seeing the forest for the trees ("House shows crack in landmark status," Jan. 31).

The article lists various concerns about Baltimore County's landmarks preservation process and opens the question of whether it even is appropriate for residents to use that process in this instance. But let's step back and give this debate some perspective.

There are no neighborhoods anywhere (upper-crust or otherwise) that want developers to be able to come in, tear down old houses and build anything they want without any review process. That's why we have a Department of Planning and Zoning, and that's why the Landmarks Preservation Commission was created.

It is right for county officials to study this situation and determine whether the house is sufficiently historic to warrant protection, and it is perfectly legitimate for the neighbors to wonder whether a new development will alter the fabric of their neighborhood.

Historic preservation is not only keeping individual buildings but also keeping them in the proper context. That's why there are historic districts throughout Baltimore County (Lutherville, Glyndon and Catonsville, to name a few).

Similarly, the neighborhood's motivation is beside the point. If the house is historic, it should be preserved, period. Historic structures also must be preserved regardless of the owner's desires. Otherwise, every old building eventually will fall into the wrong hands and be demolished.

What's more, a building does not have to be the best example of an architectural style to warrant preservation; it just has to be good enough. That's the question before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and that's exactly the basis on which the decision should be made.

The planning and zoning process in Baltimore County is already stacked heavily in favor of developers. And the landmarks preservation process lacks the authority that it should have because it has been undermined and underfunded for years.

Baltimore County's system would work much better, and the list of historic structures would be more complete, if that department had the resources that it needs.

Alex Montague

Sparks

The writer is chairman of the Baltimore County Historical Trust.

Fund health care, not war on Iraq

Thanks for printing Jules Witcover's columns "Why now? We're still waiting for an answer" (Opinion

Commentary, Jan. 31) and "Trying to halt America's march to war" (Opinion

Commentary, Jan. 22), in which he eloquently expressed the reluctance of many Americans to rush into a war.

As a first-year medical student at Johns Hopkins University, I'm one of the millions of Americans who believes that we need to give the inspections a chance to work.

Why? I'm aware not only of the countless ways a war would directly threaten the health of our own troops and of the people of Iraq but also of the terrible waste of money a war with Iraq would cause.

At a time when doctors in this country are refusing to see Medicare patients because of low reimbursements, nursing homes are struggling for funds to provide residents with even a minimal standard of care and uninsured patients across the country are flocking into emergency rooms with end-stage forms of preventable diseases, can we truly justify putting billions into a war we have no reason to fight?

Let's give the U.N. inspectors a chance to find and destroy any weapons, rather than rushing into a war in which Saddam Hussein might use them against us.

And let's use the money we would have spent on destruction to reconstruct the American health care system.

Amy Huberman

Baltimore

Iraqi intransigence may force our hand

Most Americans share similar premises as they try to understand the looming military conflict with Iraq. For example, that war is horrible, should only be considered as a last resort and is only an acceptable option as a response to clear and deadly threats. And that if war is unavoidable to protect our freedoms, our security or even our long-term global peace, then the reasoning and the supporting facts must be clear.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made a forceful, factual and compelling case exposing Iraq's noncompliance and threat.

Such moral and legal suasion should be the foundation on which the use of defensive military force is built.

And it's important to remember the current crisis is the final act in a dangerous drama that began with Saddam Hussein's 1991 invasion of Kuwait and included his attempted assassination of a former U.S. president. And since 1991 Iraq has continued to be a rogue state and Mr. Hussein has violated every agreement.

His unquenchable military ambition, dangerous defiance and contempt for human rights not only justify "serious consequences," they may require them if the United Nations and international peace efforts are to avoid irrelevance.

Roger C. Kostmayer

Baltimore

Murdered man is the real victim After reading "Descent from victim to suspect" (Feb. 2), I burned with anger. Reporter Amanda Crawford portrayed Terrence Tolbert as a poor victim who deserves yet another chance to continue his life of crime and destruction. The fact is that he had a second chance in life - and he blew it.

He had a chance and a choice to, among other things, attend technical school, and the money to support that choice. Instead he chose to waste his life by becoming not only a menace to society but someone accused of murder.

We hear the same unfortunate childhood stories again and again. But a sad childhood does not permit a person to take another person's life.

And there was another disturbing issue in Ms. Crawford's article. Mr. Tolbert was arrested numerous times but most of the charges were either dropped or he received a small fine and unsupervised probation. Why didn't he receive stronger punishment for his crimes?

Did the authorities feel sorry for him because he was handicapped? Do they still feel sorry for him after their leniency may have led to murder?

Murder victim Lee Griffin contributed an impressive amount of money to those less fortunate than himself and to charities that support medical research for incurable illnesses. He is not here to continue his generosity anymore. He didn't have a second chance.

However, despite the grief and constant feeling of immense loss among his family and friends, he will be remembered through the "Box of Rain Foundation," which continues his generosity by helping troubled children.

Mr. Tolbert apparently has become "more reflective" behind bars. I'm sure I speak for many who hope he spends the rest of his life in prison reflecting on the loss of Mr. Griffin's life.

J. E. Hollingsworth

Annapolis

I am so grateful for the insight Amanda Crawford shared with us in her article about Terrence Tolbert. Ever since Sept. 19, when my mom called me around midnight telling me to come over to the house right away because Lee Griffin - my brother - had been murdered in a carjacking, I have been under the mistaken impression that my brother was the victim in this situation.

Thanks to Ms. Crawford, my eyes have been opened. I realize now what a burden it must be for Mr. Tolbert to struggle with the weighty social, psychological and spiritual issues involved with allegedly putting a gun in my brother's face and pulling the trigger.

But I'll dispense with the sarcasm and get to the point. And the point is that Ms. Crawford totally missed the point: Mr. Tolbert is in the predicament he is in because of the choices and decisions that he made.

If you want to find the tragedy on the alleged shooter's side of this crime, you only need to look in the projects out of which the Terrence Tolberts of the world seem to spring.

In those projects you will find 3- and 4-year-old children growing up in Mr. Tolbert's footprints. No one is telling and showing these kids that they are loved and that they are of incalculable value. No one is teaching these kids that they are worthy of healthy, positive choices.

If a child is never taught that he or she is of value or is worthy of love, that child will have no sense of his or her own value and consequently of the value of anyone else. His or her life means nothing. Your life means nothing.

Lee Griffin will never sign another payroll check for an employee. He will never give of his time and his money in his community. He won't be at his niece's college graduation. He will never share a laugh with a friend.

No, Mr. Tolbert is not the victim here. My brother is. We are. Society is.

Neal Griffin

Portsmouth, Va.

The writer is the brother of Straughan Lee Griffin, who was killed on Sept. 19.

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