Pupils Rally In Uphill Fight To Save Activities Director

May 26, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

County student government leaders are mounting a valiant, but apparently vain, last-ditch effort to save their student activities coordinator from the budget ax.

The students gave Activities Coordinator Richard Wright a giant farewell cookie at the May 16 Howard County Association of Student Councils meeting, the last one of this school year.

But they decided at the same meeting to continue lobbying the County Council to restore approximately $55,000 for the student activities office to the 1991-1992 school budget.

That effort failed when the council adopted a $138.6 million county contribution to the school system's $180.7 million budget on Thursday. The school board could still choose to allocate money for the post when it meets to adopt the budget May 31, but chances appear slim.

The students' effort wasto save the coordinator's position, but it was also a tribute to theman who has maintained a sense of humor in the midst of frantic last-minute preparations for activities, spent wakeful nights at HCASC "lock-ins" and listened to their music at dances for six years.

"Thekind of person he is reflects on his job," said Leonard S. Feldman, outgoing president of HCASC. "He has to have a sense of humor, putting up with us," he joked.

The beanies with propellers story illustrates Wright's approach to his job. Two years ago, he proposed that the HCASC delegation wear beanies with propellers to the Maryland Association of Student Councils meeting.

Beanies are not cool, the students said, but Wright replied, "If you walk in as if they're cool, within one day, everyone will want one."

By the end of the day, students from other counties were looking for beanies with propellers andthe Howard County students learned something about leadership and how trends are set.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, who met with student government leaders this spring to discuss elimination of the activities coordinator's job, indicated that he does not plan to recommend that the board restore money for it.

"We'll find other ways to deliver that service," Hickey said. "I'm not sure, frankly, that itis the most important thing to restore. I'd rather see them put the (school employees') salary increment back."

The superintendent said he is considering a stipend for a part-time coordinator during after-school hours. Other staff members may take some of the responsibilities that have been part of the coordinator's job.

School board chairman Deborah D. Kendig said the students were aiming their last-minute efforts in the wrong direction, but added that she doubted the board is likely to restore the post.

"They should be lobbying the board, not the County Council, because the council does not have that authority," Kendig said.

The legal procedure used this year, when the council agreed to restore 12 teaching positions that the board hadcut from the middle school gifted and talented program, required theboard to submit a supplemental budget request for money to cover those positions.

Leonard S. Feldman, outgoing HCASC president, said the students had lobbied both the board and council earlier in this year's budget process to try to save the job.

Feldman said students reasoned that if they could get the council to add money to the budget category that contained Wright's job, the board might then be influenced to use that money for the coordinator's position.

Wright called it "unfortunate" that the board eliminated the coordinator's job after students offered to accept a reduction in HCASC's budget for 1991-1992.

"It's just a shame that a position directly involving thestudents is cut," he said.

Wright has helped students with a range of activities. Among them have been managing the Maryland Association of Student Councils convention; coordinating student participationon community boards; sponsoring the Howard County Speech League; arranging nationally known speakers for school assemblies; coordinating student government day with the council and executive; working with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program; coordinating or starting special events such as the annual dance at The Mall in Columbia.

He also wrote the curriculum for leadership classes that give studentsan opportunity to get involved in student government and volunteer work.

Wright has 23 years of teaching experience, 19 of them in Howard County. He came to his present job from Wilde Lake High School, where he chaired the social studies department. He is scheduled to return to the classroom next year, although he has not yet received an assignment.

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