Castor oil for what ails the schools HOWARD COUNTY

December 10, 1992

The search for a cure to what ails Howard County schools ha taken on a fevered pitch the past few months. Faced with a

string of budget cuts, and with student enrollment expected to increase by 14,000 within 10 years, school officials have been churning out a string of reports on ways to radically cut costs and address over-enrollment.

Not surprisingly, none of the proposed remedies is especially appealing. We have long speculated that by putting forth alternatives as palatable as castor oil, school officials want to convince citizens to push their politicians for more education funding. We have no smoking gun on this. The proof, as they say, may simply be in the pudding.

The latest idea school officials have floated involves "double shifting"; one shift of students would arrive in the wee hours of morning and stay until the afternoon, a second group would arrive in the afternoon and stay into the evening. The proposal was said to have hit school board members with a thud, because selling it to parents would be virtually impossible.

A proposal to increase class-size ratios of students to teachers seems to have little support as well. It is unlikely that board members will reverse decisions to reduce class sizes that were widely lauded in the late 1980s.

Another thumbs down has been all but given to the idea of saving money by building simpler schools. The "cheap-school" concept has few proponents within a system that has 20-year-old bargain-basement buildings in desperate need of renovation.

That leaves the more recently publicized idea: year-round schools. Students would go to school for 11 months each year, with a series of extended breaks spread throughout the calendar. The advantage is that at any given time a fifth of the students would be on vacation and, hence, not crowding the schools.

Some school board members say they like the idea. The head of the county PTA Council says she wants to hear more. But whether Howard County parents of public schoolers will want their seasonal clocks totally upset -- no more summer vacation as we know it? -- seems doubtful. Time will tell whether residents will take any of these proposals seriously, or dismiss them as witch-doctor voodoo or send school planners back to the drawing board.

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