With months to go before the budget process heats up, concerns about money crept into just about every discussion at yesterday's Board of Education meeting.
Even a $2.1 million grant from the state for sound abatement at Oakwood and Glen Burnie Park elementary schools was met with skepticism. Board members cited uncertainty about receiving additional money from the county to install the needed air conditioners once windows are sealed as part of the insulation project.
Board president Nancy Gist said the state should do more to foot the cooling bill. The Maryland Aviation Administration owns and operates Baltimore-Washington International Airport and has established a program to soundproof nearby schools.
In addition, officials are concerned because, during a similar soundproof project at Corkran Middle School, the school system was faced with unexpected costs for asbestos removal.
"I'm concerned that the FAA is driving up our construction costs by forcing us to close up windows and find money someplace else for air conditioning," board member Patricia Huecker said. "I remember Corkran. I would hope we would take a very close look at this."
Neither Oakwood nor Glen Burnie Park were high on capital project lists submitted for state funding, but participation in the soundproofing program would immediately require seeking county funds.
Ron Beckett, assistant superintendent for support services, tried to allay concerns, but warned that the state may not be willing to do much more.
"The board is going to have to decide if you want sound abatement, and if you do you have to pay for air conditioning," Beckett said. "The only (other) choice is not to do the project. All indications are that they (MAA) are going to be less flexible, not more liberal, because of their financial restraints. I'm not optimistic, but I will pursue it."
The grant will cover such interior modifications as replacing exterior glazing with brick and the addition of new windows and ceiling. Also, a ventilation system would be added to allow windows to remain closed.
Budget constraints and the need to stretch services also became an issue as board members reviewed a proposal to change the criteria for the federally funded Chapter 1 remedial math and reading program now serving 17 elementary and middle schools.
Last year, the program came under fire from parents concerned about the school selection process, fearing that some schools missed out because parents were not aware that free lunch forms determine which students are served.
Changes to the program include restricting Chapter 1 to elementary schools, primarily in kindergarten through third grade. However, the program may be extended to fifth grade in schools with the greatest number of students receiving free lunches.
Board member Jo Ann Tollenger asked Chapter 1 coordinator Starr Whiten to find measures other than free lunches to determine eligibility.
"I just wonder how many we lose because they don't want to be identified as being on free lunch," Tollenger said.
But Whiten said there is "no clear-cut way" to combine county and Board of Education data for selecting students.
She said letters are being sent home to parents, making sure they know of the free-lunch criteria for Chapter 1. Also, surveys will be distributed to schools informing them of the number of eligible students on file.
The next board meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19.