Ignoring old schools

June 28, 1993

Money follows money. That is the unfortunate crux of the matter as far as school construction and renovation are concerned. In Howard County, the situation is exacerbated because of the county's fast pace of growth and the need for new schools. Similar problems can be found in Anne Arundel, Harford and Carroll counties. The obvious disparity between older schools and newer ones is bound to raise concern among families in older communities and elected officials whose job it is to shepherd the school system forward.

One fact seems to hold true across the board -- new schools are given priority when funding decisions are made. They get new equipment, more bells and whistles, more functional classrooms. Older schools, meanwhile, are considered secondary where funding is concerned. Del. Virginia Thomas is organizing a coalition on behalf of poorer East Columbia schools, which she believes receive short shrift.

No one is suggesting that school renovation be given priority over alleviating crowding in growing areas, but greater attention should be given to the needs of older schools.

Up to now, the school system has followed the state's lead on construction priorities. With state support dwindling, it is critical that the county begin to chart its own course by putting more emphasis on renovation of older schools, irrespective of state funding.

It is good to see that officials may already be moving in that direction. The development of a master plan for addressing the needs of older schools is a positive step.

We hope it will be an honest assessment of those needs, with a better balance between the old and new as a goal.

Howard County's problems in this area are critical. Thirty out of 54 county schools were built between 1965 and 1975, and many are in need of repair and upgrading. The job of achieving equity is mammoth, but a long-range plan would show the administration's commitment to improving this situation.

Another sad reality in many fast-growth counties is that because of housing patterns minority students tend to be concentrated in areas served by older schools. That fact brings the issue of equity to a higher level. A well-developed master plan would be the first step to alleviate some justified concerns.

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