School For Deaf Layoffs Lead Parents To Pitch In

Columbia Campus Survives, But Budget Is Cut

October 20, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

Parents of Maryland School for the Deaf students will clean dormitory rooms and mow lawns rather than march on Annapolis to protest statebudget cuts that will force school officials to lay off 28 employees.

The school's Columbia campus, threatened with closing early thisyear after the General Assembly's Office of Fiscal Affairs estimatedthat the state could save $1.7 million by consolidating it with the Frederick campus, is apparently safe for this year and next.

Superintendent David Denton met with Columbia campus parents Thursday to report that the school's 1992-1993 budget request will keep "the Columbia campus open and alive."

The Columbia campus Parent Teacher Counselor Association responded to last month's $562,000 cut inthe school's $13.3 million budget by planning what association Vice President Marlowe Barnes described as an effort to "publicize and make known the plight of this school in the hope they (legislators) willgive us some special consideration, not in the way the state police did, but in a positive way."

Barnes referred to a march in Annapolis this month by hundreds of state troopers and their families to protest a plan to lay off 83 troopers and 25 civilian police employees.

The parents plan to lobby legislators to support the Columbia campus.

The parents also will volunteer for some of the work that has been done by employees who will be laid off Nov. 1. The local campus is equipped for deaf students with multiple handicaps. The Frederick campus would require renovations to accommodate those students.

Columbia campus parent Denise Lamont has already written the governor to tell him what the school has meant to her 4-year-old daughter, Melissa. Lamont said she and her husband moved to Howard County so Melissa could attend the school after an unhappy preschool experience in another Maryland county last year.

No one except the teacher could communicate with Melissa last year and the other children weren't encouraged to learn sign language, Lamont said. School officials told theLamonts that Melissa's language development was delayed, but the teaching staff simply refused to accept some of the American Sign Language signs Melissa had learned, Lamont said.

"Here she can ask the librarian a question and understand the answer. She can tease and playand just be a normal kid," Lamont said in her letter.

John Snavlin, principal of the Columbia school, told parents he will probably need volunteers who can make standing commitments to clean dormitory rooms and classrooms Fridays, do seasonal grounds maintenance such as mowing lawns or shoveling snow, serve as teacher or library aides, help with food service and answer telephones.

The principal said he will have a better idea of the school's needs by the end of November, after several weeks of operating with the staff cuts in effect. He did not have a count Friday of the volunteers who signed up Thursday night but said he would also solicit help through the school newsletter.

Denton told the parents he had no alternative to layoffs when the school's budget was cut as part of an effort to make up a $450 million state budget deficit. He said he tried to avoid reducing the teaching staff but

had to cut three teaching positions and one teacher's aide.

Some classes will be larger, and the Frederick campus will lose several vocational courses, but "the quality of instruction isequal to what it was last year," Denton told parents.

The remaining layoffs will be in the security, food service, housekeeping, secretarial and administrative staffs. The cuts will leave the two campuses with a total of 304 employees, 54 fewer than last September, Dentonsaid.

He said enrollment has remained fairly steady for the last two years. The Frederick campus has approximately 230 students, the Columbia campus has 106. In addition, 75 infants are enrolled in a program where the school's staff members work with the children and families in their homes.

The superintendent said he is convinced that the governor and legislators agree that Maryland School for the Deaf is a good school and that protest demonstrations would simply force adefensive reaction.

"I don't think (protests) accomplish anything. The story we want to tell is how good the school is and the human impact of the cuts," he said.

The PTCA will try to provide more money this year for such items as parties, Barnes said. He joked that hewould accept any and all fund-raising ideas, "even to playing the state lottery."

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