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While HoCo is famous for embracing ethnic, racial, and gender diversity I sure don’t perceive equal treatment and justice for little people versus big people here.  One can define big people and little people in different ways, hence this blog theme may require multiple installments (Round One, Round Two, etc.) to distinguish the opponents in their unequal fights. 

Today I will use the terms to generally distinguish the group known as adults from the group known as children. Subsequently I will use the term to distinguish BIG adults (those with power, influence, money) vs. the majority of adults, “the little guy or gal” (seemingly without power, influence, or the kind of REALLY big or old money or position which assures the first two gifts). Perhaps it’s my small (and shrinking) stature, or the decades I spent teaching, raising or advocating for children…or perhaps it’s the powerless feeling that comes from being ignored by “the powers that be,” but I admittedly identify with the little people, the children who need a voice. 

Round One

Despite all of the PR promotion espousing valuing children and their education above all else in HoCo, I’m just not seeing it in the actions of our county government OR our school system. Actions truly speak louder than words. The opening of the new school year with net 5 more ‘temporaries’ further magnifies this point, especially when contrasted with a recent appalling county budgetary commitment.

Here is what I regard as evidence of messed up priorities. The response to overcrowded schools in HoCo is to roll in trailer classrooms –which are so far from temporary that to call them ‘a temporary classroom’ is a horrible misnomer—as is ‘learning cottage’ or other cutesy attempts to make the proverbial silk purse. These units are now rolling in as 5 packs and 9 packs and often dominate former playground space. The district budgets on average $1.8 million per year to keep up with these less-than- ideal structures? (The FY2020 HCPSS capital budget reflects 229 such temporary units.)

In contrast, the response to an overcrowded courthouse is to build an elaborate monolith that will cost taxpayers almost a half billion dollars over its 30-year Public-Private Partnership agreement. Much has been waxed poetic about the importance of the public having a good experience while at the Courthouse.  Isn’t the only really good experience at a court house winning your case?

Unlike students or teachers who will be stationed in “temporaries” for 180 to 190 days each school year, most citizen interaction with the courthouse is very fleeting. If more room is needed for awaiting jurors—why not roll in a trailer? More room needed for clients to meet with their attorneys? Add a trailer. More room needed for ready-access file storage or the law library? Add more trailers.

No doubt the first objection by the big people to my simplistic solution will be “But it’s not safe!”

So just who is standing up for our CHILDREN’S safety???

It was certainly not the Administration, the judges, Clerk of the Court, Register of Wills or the Sheriff’s staff who testified that the new court facility was needed immediately, if not sooner. They and the attorneys in thousand dollar suits seem more interested in luxury facilities for themselves. While children are in trailers without bathroom facilities, even Appellate and visiting judges will get kitchenettes in their new courthouse suites!  Where’s the justice in that?!

Even if additional space IS needed, does it justify a new structure three times the size of the existing one? Obviously they’re thinking ahead to population growth. But what about school population growth? No one would ever argue for building a new school with more classrooms than will be needed for decades, just to let them sit vacant. Yet that appears to be the case with the new Courthouse.  Everything down to the filing cabinets, furniture, and copiers are included in the Courthouse plan for 8 judges, even though we have only 5 and have in fact been turned down for a 6th by the State due to a determination of a lack of need.

But wait. There’s more.  Although at no time was it said in a public meeting or included in a newspaper story, the Courthouse as described in the bill recently passed by the Council and signed by the Executive is just the beginning of a greater Civic Complex to be erected. I appreciated learning about the plan for two additional mega-buildings and 600 additional parking spaces at http://ecsmart.org/civic-complex . Surely the public has a right to be aware of long range plans which will involve great indebtedness.

So where ARE HoCo’s priorities? Clearly not really with school children….not when those trailer classrooms actually count toward ‘building capacity’ leaving us in a Catch 22 situation.  If trailer classrooms are counted just like brick and mortar classrooms when evaluating the need for additional brick and mortar schools, won’t we always appear to have adequate capacity—when we know that isn’t the case and that it is only getting worse with rapid over development???

Will our own state delegation continue to drag their feet on permitting HoCo to increase the school surcharge fees developers pay to help fund schools? Perhaps you should be asking that question at candidate forums….

IMHO we can’t afford the lofty new Courthouse and Civic Complex when school construction and rehabilitating Old Ellicott City are also such pressing big ticket items. If the Courthouse/Civic Complex can’t be delayed, re-conceptualized, or stopped by referendum, then perhaps we should at least convert the unused space in the new Courthouse to a magnet high school for students wanting to specialize in the practice of law that protects children from the powerful and influential Big People!

Ask yourself “Can I really afford to not pay closer attention to what is happening in my County?” Examine the voting records of candidates and the campaign contributions they accept from Big Money People who benefit from their inside tract positions—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

P.S. to taxpayers on the hook for the $459 million+ court house : How come you will also have to pay to park at the new Courthouse? I sure hope the daily rate will be set at less than the stipend provided for serving on jury duty!