50 speakers urge against budget cuts School programs have advocates

February 04, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

More than 50 parents, students and teachers turned out last night to urge the Howard County School Board not to cut funding from programs in the superintendent's proposed budget for fiscal 1994.

One after another, people took the podium and lobbied for the allotted three minutes each in favor of programs near and dear to their hearts. Speakers covered everything from classes for gifted and talented students to the county's Black Student Achievement Program.

Middle school students kicked off the public hearing, telling board members how much gifted and talented courses have meant to them.

"I am here to tell you tonight how the Gifted and Talented Program has changed my life," said Jason Coburn of Patapsco Middle School.

Jason told the board members how the program had permitted him to work on a historic preservation project with state legislators from the county and also produce his own newspaper.

Daryl Lang, an eighth-grader at Dunloggin Middle School, talked about the need to replace audio-visual equipment and update technology in the program.

"The funding for Gifted and Talented Programs should be kept so these programs can continue to function at full strength," Daryl said.

Many of the programs discussed last night have not been selected for cuts under the proposed $202 million school budget. But citizens weren't taking any chances.

In recent years, shortfalls in revenue have forced Howard County to cut millions from its school budget. Next school year, the county will have to accommodate 1,500 additional students and pay Social Security for school employees, an expense the state had paid until recently.

The proposed budget is 8 percent higher than last year's, but does not contain any new programs.

Some of the more impassioned pleas came from black parents, who reminded Superintendent Michael E. Hickey of his pledge to improve the academic performance of black students.

Mildred Boyd, a member of the Black Student Achievement Program's Parents Advisory Council, asked the board to help train more teachers in the program that is designed to narrow the gap in academic performance between African-Americans and whites and Asian-Americans.

"We must give the staff and the administrators an opportunity to achieve academic excellence for all students through diversity in the classroom by training them," Ms. Boyd said.

During the evening, a number of speakers also asked the board to spare math and science programs.

James Alexander, a member of the school system's Mathematics Advisory Committee, said the county had made great strides in math but still had work to do.

For instance, he said, last year white Howard County students taking the Maryland Functional Math test for the first time passed at a rate of 86 percent, while black students passed at a rate of 60 percent.

The public hearing continues at 7:30 tonight at the Department of Education Building on Route 108 in Ellicott City.

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