New Schools for Howard? HOWARD COUNTY

October 07, 1992

When Howard School Superintendent Michael Hickey unveiled his 1994 capital budget and recommended that $250 million be spent over 10 years to build 14 schools (as well as renovate and build additions to others), he delivered an eye-popper.

Mr. Hickey based his estimate on enrollment projections that by the year 2003, Howard can expect 13,751 more students. If the projections are right, the need to do something is clear. But if Mr. Hickey thought that his proposal simply to build more schools would sail through the process, happily we see that is not the case.

The biggest problem in the Hickey plan is this: The county is being asked to undertake projects that would add significantly to its budget at a time when the local government can ill afford to do so. Though most of the funds for construction would come from bond issues, the annual debt service would be about $1.5 million a year on a $50 million bond. Such costs are not easily absorbed in a budget pie that is already shrinking.

Mr. Hickey is a smart and capable superintendent and he would never assume such a proposal would enjoy an easy ride. That is why he has already shown a willingness to dust off an old plan to have schools in Howard County open year-round.

The advantage of the proposal is that it would reduce the need for new schools by having as many as one-third of the pupils out of school at any one time. This would be done by staggering attendance so that, for example, students would attend school 45 days and then have 15 days off. But the disadvantages are numerous, too, not the least of which is how parents, teachers and students would have to alter their present lifestyles.

Another option has the support of the Howard County PTA Council and Democratic Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass: Force the school system to pare its costs by building no-frills schools that keep to the basics. That alone may not be enough, but the idea deserves as much consideration as anything presented so far.

Something will have to be done. Looking for frills in Mr. Hickey's $250 million construction proposal should be the first step. If any are found, the next step should involve the ax.

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