Board Considers Bringing Breath Of Fresh Air To Schools

Policy Wouldban Smoking In Buildings

April 12, 1992|By Michael K. Burns | Michael K. Burns,Staff writer

"No smoking in schools" would apply to employees as well as students, under a policy proposed by the Harford County Board of Education last week.

The new policy, which should come up for a vote at the May 11 meeting, would ban all tobacco use, including chewing, by employees in all Board of Education buildings and vehicles.

Harford would become the first county school system in Maryland to completely clear the smoke from its buildings, if the policy were to take effect July 1 as called for in the proposal.

Prince George's County has adopted a similar ban, taking effect Sept. 1, on employee tobacco use.

The state Board of Education has proposed a statewide ban, which could come up for a vote at its June 24 meeting but would not take effect until next year.

In a new work contract, Harford's blue-collar school board employees have agreed to the tobacco-useban. The county teachers union and the white-collar workers union declined to negotiate this work rule issue in their contract talks, butagreed not to oppose the school board policy on employee smoking.

The state school board has ruled that a smoking policy is a working condition that must be negotiated with employees, in the absence of astatewide policy.

Smoking will be permitted in designated outsideareas of school board property, under the proposed policy. But the proposed policy states that "smoking is harmful to the health of both smokers and non-smokers."

County public schools now restrict smoking to teacher lounges or restrooms.

Students concerned about health effects of secondary smoke in their schools pushed for the ban.

Bans on school employee tobacco use has been considered too controversial for most Maryland school systems to take up. Employee unions fought a smoking ban in Frederick County schools, with the state Board of Education agreeing in 1988 that it was a contract bargaining issue and the prohibition was subsequently dropped.

That position would change if the state board adopts the proposed bylaw banning smoking in school buildings.

In Harford, the teachers and the white-collar employees unions steered around the potential conflict by waiving their right to oppose the proposed anti-smoking rule. Union leaders did not want it written in the contracts, which would signal to their members that they officially made a concession.

In other action:

*The board voted to require that a member must serve two years on theboard prior to election as vice president.

The rule would preventnewly appointed school board members from immediately becoming vice president, as they could under the established rotation of office system.

With two new members due to be appointed this summer, one would have automatically become vice president under the old rules. To be elected board president, a member must have previously served as vice president.

* Space in the new Route 24 South elementary school,to open in September 1994, will be larger than state specifications in order to meet special-education needs and future educational requirements, the board decided.

The county will have to chip in an additional $360,000 for the 3,500 square feet of added space, which doesnot qualify for the 65 percent state construction funding. The estimated cost of the 600-pupil school will be about $6.4 million for the larger 57,400-square-foot design.

This is the first time Harford has approved plans for a new school that exceeded the state's space formula for full funding. At least five other Maryland counties have done so, in submitting plans to the state Interagency Committee for Public School Construction, and have paid for the extra space with theirown money.

"We are going to wear this building for 60 years or so, and we'd better do it right," said Superintendent Ray R. Keech in recommending the larger specifications.

The state committee will review the specifications, and an architect will be chosen to design the building. No site has been selected.

* Harford ninth-graders passed the state citizenship test given in February at the record level of 82.1 percent, the board was told. Since 1986, the pass rate for Harford ninth-graders has risen by 10 percentage points.

The citizenship skills test is one of four state tests that must be passed in order for a student to graduate from high school. The tests are given in subsequent years to those who initially fail. Only 16 county seniors have yet to pass the test, which will be given again this month.

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