Cleaning Up After Price

January 26, 1994

If an oil tanker emptied thousands of gallons of crude into Chesapeake Bay, or a truck carrying hazardous materials spilled its load all over Interstate 97, we would have to clean it up, no matter the cost. The Ronald Walter Price scandal poisoned the Anne Arundel County school system just as surely as an oil slick would foul the bay. It, too, must be cleaned up, no matter what it costs.

Unfortunately, correcting the negligence that allowed boxes of child abuse reports to molder in closets will cost taxpayers plenty. We don't yet know how much, but it is clear that investigator Alan I. Baron's suggestions, which the county school board has agreed to follow, involve serious money.

Money to hire experts to teach administrators and school board staff to recognize child abusers. Money to hire staff to oversee employee discipline and child abuse files and records. Money to create a handbook for employees explaining their legal obligation to report child abuse. Money to train the superintendent's special assistants who investigate suspected child abuse cases and employee and student discipline problems.

There can be no doubt about the need for these changes, not when two investigations unearthed teachers who didn't know that romantic involvements with students are wrong and administrators who ignored the law for pursuing suspected child abuse. Yet, so far, the school system's proposed fiscal 1995 budget contains but one of the Baron report's provisions -- $120,000 for two employees to handle discipline and child abuse problems.

At this point, we are not overly concerned about that. School officials say they are still calculating the price of the recommendations, which came in too late to be included in initial budget drafts. We expect the budget the school board adopts next month to look considerably different from the current $414 million draft.

What concerns us more is that the expense of cleaning up this mess will be daunting enough to make some school and county leaders question whether the schools really need everything the Baron report recommends; to insist that the money would be better spent on more teachers and textbooks.

Teachers and textbooks are necessities. But no more than keeping our schools safe.

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