Prohibitive cost of school construction may force year-round teaching schedule

September 27, 1992|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Howard County schools may have to adopt year-round schedules if a $250 million capital budget proposal is not funded, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said during a Board of Education meeting Thursday.

Mr. Hickey proposed several ways to cut construction costs, including adopting year-round schedules and building cheaper schools.

"There's no question cheaper schools can be built, but at what cost in the long run?" Mr. Hickey asked.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker has said the county may be unable to fully finance school construction.

The superintendent has proposed spending $250 million on construction, renovations and additions over the next 10 years. Of that total, $62.8 million would be used for projects in 1994.

The long-range plan calls for 13 new schools, including six newly announced schools: three elementaries -- two in the southeastern part of Howard and one in the west; two middle schools -- one in the southeast and one in the west; and two eastern high schools.

Mr. Hickey said the system could adopt year-round schooling in three years without training more teachers or changing the curriculum. Under year-round schooling, students attend school for 45 days then have 15 days off, throughout the year. About three-fourths of the student population is in school at any given time.

Supporters say year-round schooling eases overcrowding and doesn't require spending money on additional schools. Critics argue that it disrupts family vacations and school sports schedules.

The long-range plan was released Sept. 18 with the proposed 1994 capital budget. Of the nearly $63 million requested, about $59 million would come from the county. The remaining $3.7 million would come from transfer taxes.

School board members also expressed dismay over the budget costs, which school officials described as conservative.

"This capital budget scares the living daylights out of me," said school board member Susan J. Cook.

The 32,756-student school system is expected to gain 13,751 more students by the year 2003.

Despite the massive building program, school officials stressed that there would still be overcrowding within the system.

"This budget is conservative," said Maurice Kalin, associate superintendent of planning and support services. "We will use relocatables [classrooms] and other strategies to meet growth by the year 2003."

Board member Karen B. Campbell said is worried by the lack of public concern over the budget.

"I don't see the community admit we have a fiscal crisis," Ms. Campbell said. "I don't see the community at large ready to bite the bullet yet. They're going to have to change their lifestyle or give up quality education."

By Friday, 15 speakers had signed up for the Oct. 1 public hearing, said Julene Crooks, executive assistant to the board.

Those interested in speaking have until the day of the public hearing to sign up, she said.

In other business, the board:

* Reviewed the Educational and Personal Rights Policy, which is designed to standardize discipline for students who threaten, intimidate, defame, assault, harass, or commit violence based on race, color, creed, religion, physical or mental disability, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation.

Under the policy, students who physically intimidate, threaten harm or physically assault are immediately suspended. Those who commit a second offense are suspended and face expulsion.

The new guidelines would also require students to attend a meeting with their parents and the principal. Students would also receive counseling and participate in educational activities designed to increase their sensitivity.

The board is scheduled to approve the policy at its regular meeting Oct. 8.

* Reviewed a proposal to reduce the number of times students are required to take the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, and abolishing a portion of the Maryland Functional Reading Test.

Under the new plan, which takes effect this year, all 2,200 eighth-graders would take CTBS one year, but only a random sampling of 750 students the next year. The alternative-year plan takes less time from instruction and still satisfies state requirements, said Leslie Walker-Bartnick, supervisor of testing.

The plan also allows students to take CTBS in either eighth or 11th grade. Currently, students take the test in both grades.

The plan also eliminates the diagnostic reading portion of the Maryland Functional Testing Program. The diagnostic exam is unnecessary, Ms. Walker-Bartnick said, because 97.9 percent of Howard County ninth-graders passed the test last year. The diagnostic exam allows teachers to predict how well students will perform on the actual test, which is usually given in ninth grade.

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