Friday, June 5, 2009


On the evening of May 18th, after reading the latest copy of the Annapolis Capital, I learned that once again, the effort to “fix” our crumbling high school had been put on the shelf. Angered by this latest betrayal I wrote a column taking the county executive to task for not living up to his obligation to educate our children in safe and modern facilities. However, that column will never see the light the day because, days later, due to the hard work of Councilwoman Vitale and a host of others, on May 22nd, Mr. Leopold (at the suggestion of Ms. Vitale), finally saw the light of day and in a supplemental request to the budget, added the money to finally fix Severna Park High.

On 26 May I received an e-mail from the Cypress Creek Improvement Association celebrating the restoration of the funding and urging me to let my elected representatives know how grateful I was for their sudden budgetary epiphany. Well, I am indeed grateful to Cathy Vitale, but my thanks end there. Yes, the county executive is finally doing the right thing, but to my mind it is too little and far too late.

The fact remains that for an embarrassingly long period of time, Severna Park High, as well as many other schools in our county have literally been falling apart at the seams. We should not forget that the last time Anne Arundel County built a new high school Ronald Wilson Reagan was in the White House. Have the tightfisted misers who hold the educational purse strings in this county succeeded in reducing our expectations to the point where we now celebrate the restoration of funds that should have been provided years ago?

My point is that those who are celebrating the recent largess from Truman Parkway have way too short memories. Let us go back to 2006. Ryan Bagwell reporting for the Annapolis Capital at the time noted that the Middle States Accreditation Board in their requisite review of Severna Park High concluded that , “the building needs considerable attention and should be repaired immediately.” The MSA also noted “…the Severna Park High School facility requires attention in order to meet the description for the facilities standard established by the association.”

Three long years have passed and we have heard one excuse after another as to why the money could not be found to give the children of Severna Park the educational facilities they deserve. No one wants to face the fact that the real reason for the years of neglect is not budgetary shortfalls or the weakened economy but the misguided tax cap that for years has prevented us from keeping pace with other area school systems. The Annapolis Capital in a 7 May 2009 editorial noted that “…with revenue drying up, the county's property tax rate is actually coming down 1.2 cents, as mandated by the inflexible, inflation-based county property tax revenue cap. Those who support this cap might ask themselves what sort of sense this makes.” I can answer that question; it makes no sense at all.

I know that many of our elected officials in this county are afraid to even begin to utter the words “tax increase” for fear of prompting hordes of their supporters to throw themselves like lemmings off the cliffs above the Severn River. However, the fact is that you cannot get blood out of a stone. The fact is we cannot continue to adequately fund our schools and keep taxes at the current rate. Something has got to give. We must be adult enough to understand that when we shortchange our schools we are crippling not only our children’s future but also the future of our nation and the world.

Want proof; take a trip some time to the National Cryptologic Museum at Ft. Meade. In one of the galleries sits an old retired super computer dubbed “Frostburg.” In its heyday, the device could perform 65 BILLION calculations per second. And yet, for all of its power, it is antiquated. My point is that we live in a world where 65 billion calculations per second is old hat. We are truly in the throes of a massive information revolution that has the capacity to solve the challenges of the future.

However, technology does not spring “"deus ex machina"” from the sky. The building blocks of such stupendous devices are chemistry, physics, engineering, and mathematics, disciplines that cannot be taught in a day, month or year. In addition, in today’s world schools need state of the art computer and science labs to accomplish their goals and to nurture and develop the new ideas of the future. In short, education is and will continue to be the key to everything.

Memo to the country executive: Spend more time thinking of creative ways to save our schools and less trying to win the prize for “The Anne Arundel County politician most like Bill Clinton.” Everyone understands that money is short, but there is a solution. Stop throwing up your hands and telling the world that Anne Arundel County is “tax adverse.” Find the political courage to lead an effort to help your constituents understand that our schools cannot be fixed without adjusting the tax cap. Let them know that you don’t intend to go hog wild but, that you want to tweak it just high enough to raise the money to help our teachers and schools to keep pace. Understand that while people of all political stripes may cringe at having to pay taxes to stop global warming or to fund abortions they are willing to pay for a good education for their children. To be fair, the recent supplemental is a good start, but until you provide the leadership to adjust the cap, you will continue to give the impression that you are far more interested in keeping taxes low than in keeping the children of Anne Arundel County’s test scores high!

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