School for the deaf in Columbia struggles after cuts by state Layoffs force personnel to maintain two campuses.

October 07, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

Diane Kucharski lived in Pennsylvania when she found out about the Maryland School for the Deaf. She was so impressed that she moved to Maryland so she could enroll her deaf son at the school's Columbia campus.

But, after a round of cutbacks that threatened the Columbia campus with closure last year and the latest reductions that soon will put 11 employees out of work, Kucharski is no longer so impressed with Maryland's services to deaf children.

Kucharski, a single parent, is wondering if her 8-year-old son, Andrew, will receive the kind of education she had wanted for him.

"I'm very upset," she said, aiming her anger toward state officials. "Just last year we went through the possibility of the school closing. I kind of compare this to the Gulf War. I thought things were settled, but they really weren't."

David Denton, the school's superintendent, said the loss of $562,000 from the state will force him to terminate 11 full-time workers in Columbia and 17 at the school's other campus, in Frederick. He said the cuts, part of the governor's plan to slash state spending, will be especially devastating because the two locations lost 26 employees last year.

"That's very severe and it affects the school in many ways," said Denton, adding that he is frustrated because he believes that the public does not grasp the significance of the state's budget crisis.

Three teachers and one teacher's aide are being dismissed at the Frederick campus.

At the Columbia campus on Old Montgomery Road, one instructional position, a teacher's aide, will be lost.

Other job categories affected at both campuses include data processing, maintenance, fiscal services and public relations.

The school also employs kitchen workers, psychologists, pathologists, audiologists and other specialists. At the Columbia campus, students ages 4 through 16 attend school during the day in classes of eight or fewer students.

Many children have other disabilities besides deafness that require skilled care. Some have cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and/or emotional problems.

Despite that, teachers and administrators say, the philosophy is to provide an environment where students feel normal.

About half of the 110 Columbia students and about 85 percent of the 230 Frederick children live on campus, Denton said.

The sprawling Columbia campus will have to make the most of two maintenance workers. Denton said he would ask administrative workers, teachers and other staff members to do extra chores such as adopting flower beds to cover the gaps.

"Our campuses don't get any smaller," he said. "Our buildings don't get any smaller. When you lose maintenance and security workers, their duties have to be taken over by other people."

Tim Karman, who has taught at the school for 15 years, says he can remember when the grass was always cut, the floors always shining.

"I can remember when they had lots and lots of people and everything was kept up to the T," Karman said. "Now, they [chores] have to be let go until someone can get around to them."

He said the cuts would make it even more difficult to maintain the facility and would put an even greater load on employees.

"By overworking the staff, though, hopefully we're not going to cut back the quality of life for the students," Karman said, adding that many of the students have more than one handicap and need a great deal of attention.

"I think everyone's willing to pitch in and help each other," added Jeanine DeSantis, a teacher's aide. "We know we're going to have to do our part to keep things running."

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