Balto. Co. board bows to parents School panel to weigh ombudsman plan

September 22, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer Staff writer Marina Sarris contributed to this article.

Bowing to public pressure, the president of the Baltimore County school board said last night that the panel will consider appointing an ombudsman to deal with complaints from faculty and parents.

Alan M. Leberknight, the school board president, began last night's scheduled meeting with a brief statement acknowledging public criticism of the board's formal response to an investigative task force that it had appointed to look into school system problems.

Specifically, the task force investigated the demotion or transfer of 40 longtime administrators and the transfer of hundreds of disabled students from special education centers to neighborhood schools -- often against their parents' wishes.

In its formal response, the school board rejected the task force's recommendation that independent ombudsmen be appointed, a reaction that brought even louder complaints from parents, teachers and, increasingly, from elected county officials.

"Obviously, the board's response has not been fully accepted by the public," Mr. Leberknight conceded last night. "We've had discussions, especially about the appointment of an ombudsman. We are going to take another look at that situation and see if we can do that."

Such action could mollify some elected officials who have been increasingly concerned by what they see as the board's insensitivity to parents' and teachers' concerns.

The County Council is considering a resolution calling for an elected school board. Board members are now appointed by the governor, an arrangement that was put into place to keep the schools safe from politics, but critics now view it as keeping the board safe from public accountability for its actions.

The county's House delegation, which would have to approve legislation changing the school board selection process, decided hours before last night's announcement not to endorse an elected board, although some members were highly critical of the board's response to the investigative task force.

When it got down to regular business last night, the board approved proposals for three new magnet programs and a capital construction budget designed to alleviate overcrowding throughout the county.

The magnet programs -- one in high school and two in elementary schools -- will join at least 10 others designed to draw students with similar interests, increase students' and parents' choices and integrate schools with racial imbalances:

* A business and finance magnet at Lansdowne High School on the west side of the county.

* A science, mathematics and communications magnet at the newly reopened Lutherville Elementary School on York Road.

* An international magnet school stressing world culture and foreign language fluency at Wellwood Elementary in the Pikesville area.

All are scheduled to begin next September. The county's first magnet programs opened in seven high schools this month. One high school, one middle school and one elementary program have already been approved for next year.

The Lansdowne magnet will offer courses in business administration and finance, which students would take along with their regular high school academics. Students would be offered paid internships in the summer between their junior and senior years and paid work experience during their senior year.

Several Catonsville-area employers have already agreed to be business partners, officials said.

The program will begin with 100 ninth-graders next year. The school wants to attract at least 40 black students to increase its minority enrollment, which is about 6 percent.

At Lutherville, the magnet will incorporate math and science with both technical and creative writing skills and the latest computer communications. Students would be linked by computers with a similar school in Tacoma, Wash.

The magnet program is being offered at Lutherville because the renovated school is about 100 students under capacity, despite overcrowding in nearby elementaries, such as Pot Spring. School officials say they hope the magnet will encourage parents in neighboring districts to send their youngsters to Lutherville.

Lutherville will have a math and science laboratory, a children's newsroom for producing weekly news shows, a desktop publishing program and a student newspaper.

The Wellwood proposal for an international program builds upon what the school already has -- students from 25 countries.

In addition to its own students, Wellwood will open the program to youngsters at neighboring Fort Garrison and Summit Park elementary schools. It will focus on bilingual instruction and an appreciation of different cultures. Students in the primary grades will take half of their courses in either French or Spanish. Students who are not native English speakers will be immersed in English and study an additional language. Even kindergartners will be immersed in French or Spanish for half of each day.

The three programs will cost about $430,000 to pay for more staff, training, equipment and extra books and materials, officials said.

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