Crying Wolf over School Cuts HOWARD COUNTY

June 03, 1993

Now that the Howard County Board of Education has approved an operating budget for the coming school year, it's time to step back and assess the damage. Board members were frustrated and angry about the $4.5 million in cuts they were forced to make to the school system's original $203 million spending plan.

Judging from the changes, however, we fail to see the justification for all the frustration and anger. Certainly, we don't believe board Vice Chairwoman Susan Cook's assessment of state and county leaders as having "let the students of Howard County down" by not giving the school system everything it sought.

Yes, sacrifices were made in whittling school spending. The most troublesome, far-reaching and potentially risky change entails starting the high school day 15 minutes earlier to save $360,000 in transportation costs. Having students report to school by 7:30 a.m. may put them in harm's way, particularly while waiting for school buses on rural roads almost before dawn. We also question how receptive over-tired students will be in class.

As for the other major cuts, however, we can only wonder why they weren't made sooner. Reducing the amount of money to bus private and parochial school students to school seems a reasonable deletion, as does cutting out an after-school gifted and talented dance program. Eliminating the high school interscholastic golf and gymnastics programs also seemed in order. The golf program only attracted 32 students countywide and Howard was one of only a few counties in Maryland to offer scholastic gymnastics.

There may come a time when cutbacks would not only jeopardize the county system's reputation as one of the best, but also impair the education of children. But that point has not been reached.

As we have all come to realize, the last decade was one of excess for which we all are now paying. Frugality is being demanded at all levels, and there is no reason to expect differently from the school system. Board members should be thankful that county officials have promised to restore $2.2 million in funding if income tax revenues increase by 10 percent before January. Crying wolf about the commitment of the county and state to education will only confuse the public should the need really arise to sound that warning.

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