Making Barclay kids suffer

January 10, 1994

Syreeta Byrd is a smart kid. A seventh grader at Barclay Middle School in Baltimore City, she enjoys learning and has always received good grades. In a city where school violence and high dropout rates have become the norm, it would behoove the education bureaucracy to do everything in its power to enhance Syreeta's ability to learn.

But that is asking too much. At Barclay, a mistake made in the beginning of the school year, a mistake that remains uncorrected, is stripping away educational opportunities of Syreeta and her schoolmates. The Baltimore City school system -- i.e., the bureaucrats at North Avenue -- underestimated Barclay's enrollment by 93 students, leaving the school's budget short by $175,000.

Why the mix-up? Until Barclay was re-zoned this school year, few children who had not attended the elementary school could attend the middle school. Now, anyone in the community can come to Barclay for middle school. The budget for Barclay, however, was formulated from enrollment projections based on past years, when there were fewer students.

This rezoning has caused extreme overcrowding in a school lauded only recently for its small class size, the result of a partnership between Barclay and the private Calvert School underwritten by the Abell Foundation. But that successful program is thus far installed only in the elementary-school grades, not the crowded middle school.

So while administrators, teachers and parents fight over funding, the kids suffer. Art, music and gym classes have been canceled and replaced with "study periods." The school also has been forced to eliminate health classes, a dangerous situation in this era of skyrocketing AIDS and teen-age pregnancy rates.

Mary R. Nicholsonne, assistant school superintendent for the northern area, has promised to try to get Barclay $30,000 of the $175,000 owed the school so it can finish the school year. "We recognize you've had to suffer," she told 125 angry parents the other night.

That's unacceptable. North Avenue administrators knew last summer that they were underfunding Barclay. In a half-billion-dollar annual budget, they can find the money to be honest with Barclay and Syreeta Byrd. We are counting on Superintendent Walter G. Amprey to correct this glaring inequity.

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