During 25 years as a county educator, Robert L. Depuy never saw destruction worse than the fire that swept through Edgewood Middle School's band room.
The blaze caused more than $30,000 worth of damage, ranking it among the system's worst incidents of vandalism.
The fire is the latest example of a trend of increasing losses tocounty school property through destruction or theft.
The Board ofEducation reported in its annual loss report last month that incidents ranging from arson and bomb threats to graffiti and broken windowshave climbed from 370 in fiscal year 1986 to 420 in 1991.
The losses mount: $58,588 in stolen or damaged property reported in the fiscal year ended June 30, marking a 37-percent increase over 1990.
Reports of arson in county schools the past four years have fluctuated from only two in 1988-1989 to 10 last year.
The most destructive fire was at Bakerfield Elementary School in 1980, said Bob Thomas, a spokesman for the State Fire Marshal. That blaze, set by two Aberdeen teen-agers, caused about $400,000 damage and closed the school for a year.
Only $13,348 of the $58,588 in losses reported last year were recovered either through other county agencies, insurance, the courts or restitution by individuals.
The loss report said that determining who is responsible for vandalism is complicated by the fact that the 44 school buildings are open for public uses ranging from Parksand Recreation activities and day care to Scouting groups and churches.
North Harford Elementary principal Mary Welsh said teaching students responsibility has been the key to her school reporting no losses last year.
Of 43 schools open last year, only five elementary schools made the no-damage list.
Welsh attributed her good fortuneto following the disciplinary theories of psychologist William Glasser, whose books include "Schools Without Failure" and "Reality Therapy."
In practice, that means talking out problem behavior with students, trying to get to the bottom of "Why did you throw that pencil?"Welsh said.
Misbehaving students must answer four questions:
What did you do?
What did you hope to accomplish?
What was accomplished?
What will you do instead to accomplish what you wanted?
"The issue is not punishment," Welsh said. "It's making things work."