Loss of aid puts school in jeopardy Lida Lee Tall falls victim to state cuts

January 04, 1991|By Sandra Crockett

The news was dismal yesterday for people at the Lida Lee Tall Learning Resources Center, Maryland's only experimental elementary school. They were told that financing for the school is to be slashed from the governor's budget for next year.

"It was not unexpected," said Shirley Bigley, chairwoman of the school's board, who got the telephone call from the governor's office. "But it is very disappointing."

Lida Lee Tall is an independent elementary school that receives about $500,000 in state financing. Parents pay a yearly tuition of $1,170, with 20 percent of the students attending free.

Judy Sachwald, an education liaison for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, confirmed that he has decided not to include money for the school in the fiscal 1992 budget. Unless the money is restored or Lida Lee Tall finds an alternative source of funding, the school that has been around for about 130 years will close in June 1991.

Ms. Sachwald said that announcements of cuts normally are not made until the governor unveils his budget, but that this was an "unusual circumstance."

"The reason we notified the board as soon as the governor made a decision is that we wanted to give the parents as much time as possible to think about it and make arrangements for their children next year," she said.

Ms. Sachwald said that parents she has talked with at Lida Lee Tall are "passionate about their children's education," and that she hopes they remain that way -- but at their children's new schools.

"I would hope the same energy they invested in Lida Lee Tall would be invested in the school their children go to next year. It's that energy that makes schools work," Ms. Sachwals said.

Lida Lee Tall, located at Towson State University, has faced precarious times before.

It almost lost its state financing in 1982, but parents persuaded then-Gov. Harry R. Hughes and the General Assembly to save the school by transferring its budget from Towson State to the state's Educational Coordinating Committee.

The school was then revamped to serve as a research tool for Maryland educators, who test teaching methods and theories on Lida Lee Tall's students.

For that reason, the student body of 170 must reflect the racial and economic mix of the Baltimore area.

The school is 60 percent white, 30 percent black, 10 percent other minorities and evenly divided between boys and girls. xTC Seventy percent of the students come from families considered to be middle-income, 22 percent are from lower-income families and 8 percent are upper-income.

Slightly more than 20 percent of the children are selected from households headed by single parents. The demographics match the 1980 Census for the Baltimore area.

Steve Young, a Lida Lee Tall graduate whose daughter attends kindergarten there, said it was the mix that attracted him to the school, which is much different now from how it was when he attended.

"It was a far different school then," said Mr. Young, who lives in the Waverly section of Baltimore. "It was all white, all middle-class, and most of the people were from Baltimore County."

He said he and his wife, a Chinese-American, wanted a good education for their daughter in a school with students of different backgrounds.

Parents say they have not given up hope. They are to hold a meeting tonight at the school to discuss options.

"We are definitely going to do something, but we are not sure what at this point," said Maureen Frost, president of the school's PTA, who has two children at the school. "We are pretty upset about it."

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