Crying Wolf in Howard Schools

September 09, 1992

Howard County school officials are crying wolf in their latest attempt to frighten parents into believing that budget cuts have damaged the schools and harmed their children. Barely a week into the new school year, officials are already complaining that classes are overcrowded. More specifically, officials blame budget cuts for forcing them to reduce the pool of teacher hopefuls they can draw on to offset unanticipated enrollment increases.

School officials are suspiciously vague on the number of schools beset by overcrowding, and which classes and how many students are involved. This is tantamount to warning of a wolf in the pasture, without saying whether it's a pup or a full-grown, menacing canine.

School officials know full well that it takes several weeks to determine the actual enrollment in each school. At that point, adjustments can be made to offset enrollment bulges in the system by transferring personnel from under-enrolled schools. Additional adjustments can be made by dipping into the pool of reserve teachers.

Cutting by more than half -- from 38 to 16 -- the number of reserve teachers the school system had available was a wise decision. The growth in new residents in Howard has fallen well behind pre-recession predictions. An early enrollment projection of 1,300 new students this year appears to be right on target.

Until clear evidence exists that overcrowding has gotten out of hand, school officials are acting irresponsibly to suggest a crisis. Officials should have learned a lesson from the strategic error of the county teachers union, whose rank and file responded to salary cuts last year by refusing to do work not specifically stated in their contract. Instead of drawing parents to the cause, the tactic alienated many would-be supporters and was abandoned.

Of course, school officials may be right that overcrowding will make parents feel the pinch of budget cuts for the first time. But until they know for sure, this wolf doesn't seem nearly as big and bad as it is being portrayed.

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