School Board Keeps Vigil At Annapolis Legislature

March 10, 1991|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

Every year it happens like clockwork. Legislators pack heavy leatherbriefcases and head for Annapolis to draft laws that may change someaspect of school operations.

Just as predictable is the response of county school officials, who set up shop near the State House to make sure bills aren't passed before they've had a say.

School board member Dorothy Chaney has served as the board's sentry for the last four years, keeping members abreast of pending legislation and lobbying for the board's position among legislators.

"They sometimes have ominous and sometimes beneficial implications," Chaney said of the legislative process. "In the state of Maryland, school systems are state agencies. State laws affect just about everything."

Chaney isn't standing watch alone. Deputy school superintendentC. Berry Carter is a member of the Green Street Coalition, comprising representatives from nearby school systems and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

This year, school board members are finding very little to support. Some bills are being opposed because of the price tags attached to them; others have drawn fire because they are viewed as a way to divert money and power from the local level.

In particular, school officials are vehemently fighting legislation that would divert some of the state money given to local systemsto a program called Schools for Success, which would offer incentivegrants directly to individual schools.

"With House Bill 203 and Senate Bill 209 (Schools for Success), we would lose $1.7 million thisyear and more than $4 million

next year," Chaney said.

House Bill 605, which Chaney labels "an extreme measure," would penalize school systems that offer employees raises during this period of budget limits and layoffs.

Board members are opposed to House Bill 995, which would reduce the amount of state aid for special education students. School officials estimate they would lose $200,000 in the first year, with the amount increasing as the number of special education students increases.

Bills dealing with labor relations also have Chaney's attention.

The Board of Education has reached an impasse with two of its four employee unions. Board members are concerned aboutlegislation that would transfer the power to declare an impasse fromthe state superintendent of education to the commissioner of labor and industry.

"The board's position is that it is a threat in education," Chaney said. "We're dealing with children and their lives, notmaking cars or manufacturing furniture. We're talking about children, and we feel that those who have that experience and background should be the persons making the decisions, rather than the commissioner."

Other labor bills would permit student-teacher ratios and curriculum changes to be negotiated as part of teachers' contracts.

Senate Bill 335 is one of the few bills board members support. It would extend the period that school systems have to file suit to recover replacements costs from manufacturers supplying material containing asbestos.

"It gives us the potential to file suit on 113 (school system) buildings," Chaney said.

School boards and educators aren't theonly ones in Annapolis lobbying for and against legislation. The Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils and its student members have set their own agenda.

Association president Miecha Werwieis lobbying against Senate Bill 210, which would lower the minimum age of compulsory school attendance from 6 to 5.

She is also opposing Senate Bill 261, which would raise the age limit for mandatory school attend ance from 16 to 17 during school year 1992-1993, and to age 18 for school year 1993-1994. School officials estimate the first year will cost $500,000, with the amount rising steadily each year.

"We testified that forcing students to stay in school longer than they want to is actually harming other students," Werwie said. "We feltthere are more problems that force students to drop out that they (legislators) may not be aware of.

"However, I completely support mandatory kindergarten, and so did CRASC. But there was no provision for funding. It would be positive, but now that the budget is crunched and other things are being cut out, having it could be harmful to other programs."

The Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils has 300 student representatives from all middle and senior high schools. Students meet monthly, and each year they debate and take positions on legislation that they feel is important to them. Students from the association's legal liaison committee regularly testify before the General Assembly.

"It's important that we lobby," Werwie said. "It gives us a chance to get involved in the decision-making process. A lot of times, the student opinion is different and refreshing. The positions we take are very informed."

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