The Sudbrook magnet muddle

May 17, 1993

Quick. Somebody tell Roger Hayden he doesn't run the Baltimore County school board anymore.

The county executive, once a school board president of long standing, has made it clear to education officials that he will deny their $500,000 request for the reopening of Sudbrook Middle School as a "magnet" facility. By doing so, the executive and his administration practice the kind of micro-managing best left to the people running the schools, not to government number-crunchers.

The argument has been made here before: The executive can shape the budget as he sees fit because he's the county's top elected official. Call it a perk for having the buck stop at his desk. Nonetheless, Mr. Hayden's Sudbrook decision is highly questionable for its cold dismissal of a promising concept formed over 10 months by a committee of parents, school officials and community leaders.

Now that volunteer committee's hard work is tossed aside. So is the prospect of an attractive magnet school where only an empty complex had existed for much of the past decade.

The magnet concept also would have helped settle the racial issues raised by remaking Sudbrook a regular middle school. The administration budgeted $500,000 last year for the reopening of Sudbrook this September as a middle school, largely to ease overcrowding at nearby Pikesville Middle. But the County Council pulled the money in reaction to fears among white families of Pikesville Middle that their children would be placed in a revamped, mostly black Sudbrook. The magnet school, by drawing students from local as well as more distant communities, was expected to be racially balanced.

Mr. Hayden's administration and Superintendent Stuart Berger's education department have had their communication problems before. It's hardly a shocker, then, that this matter has turned into a muddle. The two sides can't agree on school capacity formulas. They can't agree on when it was known that Sudbrook was to become a magnet facility. What else can't they agree on?

Perhaps worst of all, they can't agree on the kind of school Sudbrook should be. All the former education officials in the Hayden administration ought to recognize how the magnet approach can greatly benefit the county. Not only can it make the schools more exciting to students, it can also make the county more appealing to families who might have been tempted to raise and educate their children in other jurisdictions.

Chances are the $500,000 for the Sudbrook magnet -- relative chump change -- will be found somewhere in the county's $1.2 billion budget. It shouldn't require so much struggle, though. Most county residents would probably agree on that.

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