Grace chief urges excellence in county schools

W. R.

May 06, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

While Howard County schools have accomplished much with business partnerships, this is no time to dwell on that success, the president of W. R. Grace told county educators and business leaders yesterday.

"You've demonstrated what you can do over the last five years. The next five years must be even better," said J. P. Bolduc, president and chief operating officer of W. R. Grace & Co.

In his keynote address at the Educational Partnerships program's Fifth Anniversary Luncheon, Bolduc said American business will succeed or fail with the nation's educational system.

"There is a major shortfall of qualified, competent, and capable -- people who possess the knowledge, the skills and the ability to satisfy corporate America's demands.

"If we don't reverse the trend today, we'll not be able to compete," he said.

"I go up against the Japanese, the Germans, the Russians, the Chinese every day of the week. I'm having my lunch handed to me," he said.

Grace and American corporations like IBM and General Electric are disadvantaged, he said, by a lack of skilled workers, especially in the technical areas such as computer-assisted design and manufacturing.

Rising interest payments on federal debt will go even further to impoverish education in America, Bolduc said. Because of a lack of tax dollars, school systems have to seek even more help from corporations and even small businesses.

Howard County's partnerships have grown from 16 in the 1987-1988 school year to 120 this year.

Grace's partnership with Atholton High School has provided nearly $400,000 over four years for scholarships, educational technology and mentor programs. Intended to promote math and science studies, the partnership also involves working with Grace scientists at its Research Center in Columbia and at the school.

While the benefits for the school are obvious, there are also important benefits for businesses, Bolduc said.

"Do you know that corporate America spends $200 billion a year in training their people? How much of that can you get as an education system? Why should Grace go out and pay consultants to train our people or to retrain people when you have the education, you're the experts?

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey agreed that the formula makes sense.

"If we can offer them a top-quality product, wouldn't it be worthwhile to . . . spend a portion of that in education as well?" Hickey said.

Hickey was unsure about setting up an endowment fund, as Bolduc suggested, without a prior commitment to fund it. Otherwise, Hickey said, it might divert contributions from other funds in the county, such as the Columbia Foundation.

Bolduc also implored the school system to reorganize.

"That doesn't mean you put people on the street; you redeploy people to do the kinds of things you need to do, because corporate America is going to ask. I've downsized in economic bad times. I've eliminated people. I've consolidated operations. What have you done?" he asked county educators.

School systems have to look at higher pay and bonus plans for their employees, he said. While tax dollars won't be available to pay for them, Bolduc believes there is plenty of private money available.

"There are some fat cats in Howard County. There are some big shots in Howard County. There are big companies in Howard County. No one ever said that all of the money you need to create a first-class, world-class education system has to come from tax dollars."

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