Free education in Anne Arundel County may not be so free any more.
County budget cuts mean students must foot the bill for activities normally provided by the school system. Charges will range from $1.25for students to have their artwork included in school exhibits to $150 per student for participation in speech competitions.
During a marathon school board meeting yesterday, board members gave Curriculum Director Dennis Younger the go-ahead to charge students user fees for activities. Students will be charged only the cost ofthe activity.
Money for the activities had been included in the school system's community service budget, which has been deleted by the county as officials seek to make up for a $10 million reduction in state aid.
Board member Nancy Gist, who voted in favor of the charges, said she is concerned about underprivileged students in the county and their access to school programs.
"We have an obligation to provide a free education to all students in the county," Gist said.
One of the more controversial charges was a $60 fee per course for Advanced Placement exams given to students who want to earn college credit for school work.
In addition, students will have to pay $24 to participate in school science fairs, $100 for math competitions, $150 for Spanish competitions and $75 for foreign affairs conferences.
"Parents have to pay," Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County President Tom Paolino said during a break. "At Glen Burnie (High), students are having bake sales; at Annapolis and Broadneck students in the art department are baking cookies at school and selling them tobuy art supplies."
On the heels of state cuts that may affect theschool system's free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch programs,board members still are struggling to meet the county's demand that they reduce spending by $5.1 million.
After much debate and several failed votes, members finally decided late in the evening to approve a $5.1 million cost-containment plan -- but with $1 million of thatset aside to address the board's shortfalls.
They also requested a meeting with County Council members to discuss a possible fourth-quarter transfer, which would allow money from one spending category tobe shifted and cover shortfalls in another.
The cost-containment plan includes a 20-percent reduction in supplies and equipment, saving $2.7 million; $1 million in cuts to school maintenance; continuation of a hiring freeze, saving $1.3 million; and cuts in small grants to individual schools at $100,000.
If the council does not approve the board's plan to retain the $1 million, further cuts would have tobe made. That could include cutting school activity buses to one daya week.
Under that plan, athletic and music buses would also run less often. Students taking semester exams would have to do so without special buses, and transportation for students engaged in outdoor education and field trips would also be reduced.