Arundel parents demand better grade schools

February 12, 1993|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer

"Bridging the Gap," the title of a report on elementary school staffing issued last fall, has become the mantra of Anne Arundel County parents at this year's budget hearings.

"Please support bridging the gap," pleaded Audrey Reichenbach, of the Pasadena Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association. "We need equity in staffing."

The $380.9 million budget proposed by Superintendent C. Berry Carter II, "is a beginning for bridging the gap," said Shirley Freienmuth of the Severna Park Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association. "Please have the courage and conviction to make choices for our children."

Some 400 parents have crowded into two public hearings on the superintendent's budget proposal for fiscal 1994, which begins July 1. Nearly all of them want more -- more teachers, more administrators, more counselors and more secretaries for the elementary schools.

Mrs. Freienmuth spoke at the first hearing on Feb. 3 at Board of Education headquarters in Annapolis. Mrs. Reichenbach spoke at the second hearing on Feb. 10 at Old Mill High School near Glen Burnie.

The report on which they based their case says grade schools are "understaffed and overextended."

Elementary schools with 500 or more students are supposed to have an assistant principal, for example. But a dozen of those schools have no assistant principal, according to the report, which was written by school staff.

The report also recommends one guidance counselor for every 300 students. But the current ratio of students to guidance counselors is 835-to-1. Only eight of the county's 78 elementary schools have one full-time counselor.

The report recommends 152 more secretaries for elementary schools.

Since the report was issued, parents have shown up at school board meetings waving copies like banners.

"Our kids are being shortchanged in elementary schools," Marilyn Higgs, of the Severna Park Elementary School Countywide Advisory Council, complained at the Old Mill High School hearing. "It really is high time for us to give our elementary school the attention they deserve."

Chris Metz, of the Mayo Elementary School Countywide Advisory Council implored board members "to go back in this budget."

"Increase the number of guidance counselors and psychologists," he said at Old Mill High School, "A half day per week doesn't go very far."

The proposed budget includes money for an additional 57 employees -- teachers, guidance counselors, secretaries and assistant principals -- for elementary schools.

In addition to arguing for the increases in staff levels, parents have been asking the board to address problems at individual schools.

Schools such as Central Elementary in Edgewater, Tyler Heights Elementary in Annapolis, Lake Shore Elementary in Pasadena, and Benfield Elementary in Severna Park want computer labs.

Parents of children in special education programs want more money for therapists and aides.

"It seems to me that one visit from a speech therapist is simply not adequate," Geri Weiss, whose autistic child attends George Cromwell Elementary, said last week in Annapolis. "Last year when it was double that it was also not adequate."

Roxanne Simmons told the board to make no cuts, especially in special education. Mrs. Simmons testified at Old Mill High School that her 11-year-old daughter, Katie, is "in a typical program, with typical kids," because of the attention she received in her early school years.

Parents from Pasadena Elementary School want a new floor for their 38-year-old multi-purpose room. The room, which serves as both cafeteria and gym, has a cracked floor.

And Park Elementary School parents want what they've wanted for a long time, a new school.

The school board will vote on a budget during its meeting Wednesday. The budget will be sent to County Executive Robert R. Neall who will in turn present it to the County Council, which will make the final decision.

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