Jessup Project Begs for Cooperation ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

July 26, 1993

Anne Arundel County's first volunteer school renovation project -- which would have saved taxpayers $500,000 -- is on the skids because school officials did a poor job of directing the volunteers.

Hundreds of Jessup Elementary parents and business people had expected to be building walls by now.

But the school system's lack of communication almost certainly has doomed any chance of the work being completed before classes resume in September. It may have discouraged the volunteers enough to make them abandon the project all together.

Though school officials approved the parents' plan in May, they appeared less than enthusiastic from the start. They were right to be cautious. This was, after all, an experiment, and they were responsible for making sure it was done right. Still, they spent inordinate amounts of time debating liability and other red tape before accepting the obvious: that these parents had come up with a darned good plan and that it was shortsighted not to let them go ahead.

Once that realization was made, the schools should have assigned someone to shepherd the parents through the maze of bureaucracy, to make sure they understood the required specifications and procedures and to set a timetable. As it was, the parents basically were left to their own devices.

No one educated them about crucial details, such as the fact that a sprinkler system had to be put out to bid or that that process could not be completed by the parents' scheduled start date. (We have to wonder why the schools couldn't have avoided the delay by soliciting bids sooner.)

What information the schools did provide was not always correct; parents were told they would need to install two electrical outlets per classroom, instead of two per wall -- further messing up the volunteers' schedule.

The whole experience has left parents bitter and distrustful toward the school system. But before they make an enemy out of the board, they would do better to chalk up this summer's misfortunes to experience and entreat school officials to work side-by-side on a new renovation schedule. There's no reason why this project, or others like it, couldn't work with a little cooperation and communication.

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