Lida Lee Tall supporters pledge to continue their uphill battle to rescue it

May 25, 1991|By Gelareh Asayesh John W. Frece of The Sun's Annapolis Bureau contributed to this article.

The supporters of the Lida Lee Tall Learning Resources Center, Maryland's laboratory school and an object of devotion for parents of 160 children, admit that it will probably close down for good this summer -- more than a century after it first opened on the campus of Towson State University.

But they are not yet ready to concede defeat.

Parents at the independent, state-funded elementary school say they are considering countermeasures in the wake of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's veto yesterday of a bill funding the school. The bill would have provided $500,000 for one more year while supporters tried to come up with alternative sources of money for the future.

Discussions include vague talk of legal action, persuading Baltimore and Baltimore County to take over the school, or an override of the governor's veto at the special session of the legislature scheduled for June 26th.

But the grounds for legal action are unclear, city and county officials say they have no money to spread around, and an override would take a three-fifths vote of both houses.

"We are grasping at straws," said Steve Young, who graduated from Lida Lee Tall and has a daughter, Laura, in kindergarten there. "We feel very strongly about the school and we just don't feel we can take this lying down. We feel we have to try to do something even if it seems futile."

Most people -- including the governor -- agree that Lida Lee Tall is an excellent school. Its students outstrip their peers in the state in performance on standardized tests and read and compute far beyond their grade levels. The 125-year-old school has a devoted cadre of parents whose children learn in private school conditions while enjoying the racial and ethnic diversity of a public school.

But Mr. Schaefer was unconvinced by parents' contention that Lida Lee Tall's successes touch more than the small number of students it serves. In his veto message he said that the school "is not meeting its existing mission as a laboratory for elementary education methods."

"It was not an easy bill to veto," Mr. Schaefer said. "The purpose was good. But they don't take it seriously when I tell them to look for alternative sources of funds."

The state supplies $500,000 of the school's $600,000-plus budget, with the rest coming from an annual tuition fee of $1,170 per child. The school is 60 percent white, 30 percent black, 10 percent other minorities, and draws most of its students from Baltimore city and county.

Mr. Schaefer's criticism infuriated parents, who went to extreme lengths to save their school.

They mounted an intensive lobbying campaign, and provided testimony attesting to the school's value as a research tool. They pledged to pay 50 percent more tuition for a year and to find other sources of money for the future. They agreed to expand the school's mission.

When the bill passed both houses with substantial majorities, the school's supporters breathed a sigh of relief and thought themselves safe.

"The parents feel ambushed," said Sen. John A. Pica, D-Baltimore, who introduced legislation to save the school.

"We felt that we did everything we could possibly do, that we were asked to do, and in spite of all that the governor decided to close the school," said Frank Morgan, a Baltimore attorney who has two children at Lida Lee Tall.

Senator Pica said he is pursuing the possibility of a city-county takeover of the school and plans to broach the idea of a veto override with legislative leaders, but said both possibilities are slim.

"There's not much room for working this out," he said. "We'll give it a shot though."

Parents planned to meet at the school at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to review their options. Meanwhile, teachers and school staff talk about job-hunting and parents must begin thinking about other schools for their children. The school year ends June 12.

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