Sixteen-year-old Miecha Werwie is worried. She frets about the war in the Persian Gulf, but also about what is happening to her fellow students right here.
Her face reddens slightly as she talks about an$8 million budget crunch that has begun to trickle down to a level where students and teachers are feeling the pinch. The lack of school buses, for instance, has cut down on student government's participation in state-wide assemblies and lobbying efforts.
"We want to make sure they know this is important to us," Miecha said. "We don't want our programs cut. Extracurricular programs are important too."
"They took the high school activity buses," Miecha said. "And we just don't want more cuts."
The Southern High seniorand president of the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils crosses her fingers while talking about working with the board to keep the group's leadership conferences and legislative lobbying efforts alive.
But she is also concerned about the county's 65,000 students who will be touched one way or another.
Budget cuts are beginning to take their toll on just about every school. Meade High School, for instance, has had its evening high school classes canceled because of low enrollment.
The remaining three evening high school sites probably won't escape unscathed either. Tight budgets may forceschool officials to charge more for evening classes, as well as for elementary and high school summer school programs.
"Students may be asked to pay more," said Lou Apuzzio, the county's coordinator of continuing education and summer school. "Summer school is not requiredby the state. It's a service to the community and students."
Students from low-income families may suffer most if the board is not able to offer tuition waivers. Among elementary students, 189 of 778 received tuition waivers last number, compared to 209 of the 2,500 high school students.
"I would think with the economic situation the way it is may be more of a demand for waivers," Apuzzio said. "There are a lot of people out of work."
After-school activity buses that once ran three times a week at high schools and middle schools have been cut back to servicing middle schools only, twice a week. The move should save the school system $180,000.
The use of substitute teachers has been cut, saving about $100,000. And lessons in water safetyand preventing drowning have been discontinued.
Budget officer Jack White said it is almost impossible for the school system to address its budget problem without touching student programs --something that doesn't sit with with County Council members.
"If they don't like the cuts we've proposed, tell us what they would like us to do," White said. "Probably 90 percent of our budget has direct reflection on students. If we are going to save $8 million, we are going to have to impact student programs."
Resource teachers used to review and improve teaching methods are being called back into the classroom either as substitutes or to fill positions vacant because of a hiring freeze.
Fred Jenkins, coordinator of the gifted and talented program, is already receiving calls from angry parents worried about cuts.
"We lost the after-school and weekend program conducted at the Naval Academy for students in grades 7 through 12," Jenkins said.
"Theprogram depended on part-time salaries paid to Naval Academy professors and county teachers for studies in math, science and computer science."
His department also lost teachers responsible for coordinating student internship and mentorship programs. Two resource teacherswho traveled to elementary schools to provide special programs to challenge gifted students have been cut.
Physicists, athletes and chemists will no longer come into schools to share their expertise in the Pursuit of Excellence lecture series offered to juniors and seniors; there was no money for the speakers or transportation for students.
And ironically, just as the board had committed to a pilot program to find a better way to identify gifted students, one of four teachers assigned to develop the plan already has been reassigned.
Parents already are gearing up to bring their concerns to the board's first public hearing on the budget, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at board headquarters on Riva Road.