The Hesitant Guinea Pig HOWARD COUNTY

September 20, 1993

Gov. William Donald Schaefer is trying to put the idea of year-around schools on a fast track, offering economic incentives for counties willing to take the bait as early as next fall. Fortunately, school officials in Howard County, which indicated early interest in the governor's idea, appear not to be biting so fast.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey says that implementing even a pilot year-around school program by 1994-95 would be tantamount to ramming the idea down residents' throats. Dr. Hickey should be commended for putting the interests of the school system ahead of winning any political plums.

Make no mistake, the Howard school superintendent likes the year-round concept. But he also has the good sense to say that implementation would take a minimum of three years. "You have to bring along the community on something like this," he says. "You should at least have a level of understanding, if not complete acceptance."

Dr. Hickey admits that community reaction has been overwhelmingly against the idea since the governor floated it at a convention of county leaders a month ago as a way to stretch school construction money. He's hoping that a public dialogue will sway the naysayers, though. A symposium planned by the school system is scheduled for next month; the state is planning a similar brain-storming session for November.

So far, however, research remains inconclusive regarding the benefits of year-round schools. The governor has been stressing the savings over educational benefits; in Howard, Dr. Hickey calculates the possible savings at $60 million because it would forgo the need to build four new elementaries and a high school to serve the Maryland's fastest-growing school population. But the construction savings must be weighed against potential losses to the state's tourist industry and on businesses that rely on students as summer workers.

Governor Schaefer is asking people to plunge into this alternative, which would require sweeping changes in how students are taught and in how Marylanders plan their lives. That's a lot to ask when all public officials can point to is a cost savings that seems questionable in the overall picture. Howard's school leaders are approaching this, as they should, with caution.

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