The number of incidents of property damage in Harford schools was down 9 percent for the 1992-1993 school year from the previous year, and the net cost of property lost or destroyed reached a five-year low, according a recent report by the Board of Education.
There were 401 cases of property damage last school year, as compared with 441 in 1991-1992. School officials say the $43,743 cost of repairing or replacing the damaged or missing material in 1992-1993 was $15,246 less than the year before and $16,787 less than five years ago.
The report included property that was damaged, missing or vandalized.
Alarm systems have cut into the rate of vandalism, said school spokesman Donald R. Morrison. Twenty-six of the county's 47 public schools are equipped with alarms, and others will be added at a rate of about two or three a year, until all the schools are secure, Mr. Morrison said.
The alarms and a liaison program with law enforcement officials also could explain the decline in the number of breaking and enterings, said Wallace C. Brenton, school administrative assistant for safety and security. There were seven break-ins in 1992-1993, fewer than half of those reported for each of the past five years. Nineteen were reported in the 1991-1992 school year.
In the liaison program, police officers make routine passes around school property, Mr. Morrison said.
One incident that was not included in the report, which covered July 1, 1992, through June 30, 1993, was vandalism in the Aberdeen High School planetarium on Aug. 12, 1992. The cost of the damage was $245,918.
"It was not your run-of-the-mill occurrence," Mr. Morrison said. It was an extraordinary event that would have thrown the rest of the figures out of kilter, he said.
The planetarium has been out of service since the destruction, when vandals entered by smashing a window and destroying two locked doors. It is due back in operation by April.
Insurance coverage will provide about one-half of the cost. Equipment was upgraded as well as replaced, Mr. Morrison said.
The Harford schools are self-insured in a pool with several state school systems with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. They have a $10,000-deductible policy.
The schools also recoup funds by restitution. Those responsible for damages to school property, when apprehended, are often required by the courts to make restitution as part of the settlement of their case.
In the 1992-1993 school year, the total cost of property damage was $60,184, but restitution was recovered for $16,441 of that figure, making the net cost $43,743.
Mr. Brenton, who compiles the report, said that figures for property damage are not yet available for this year, but that arson has been a problem. There have been five incidents in schools this year, as compared with six for all of last year.
"Arson is a unique crime," said Mr. Brenton, when asked for a explanation of the high number. "Each person has his own motive."
He described arson cases in which a student set fire to a room because she didn't want her parents to come to a school conference, another in which the fire was set to cover up a burglary, and another committed by three students for excitement.
School officials note that not all property destruction is caused by students during the school day. The schools are used by other organizations after hours, Mr. Morrison said. Such groups include the county Parks and Recreation Department, day-care providers, Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts and churches, the report said.
"Some of the property damage is just caused by wear and tear," Mr. Morrison said.