Activist seeks ideas on dividing up school system

February 18, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel | Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writers

Longtime civic activist Lewis Holmes says Anne Arundel County's 69,000-student public school system has gotten so big that it can't do its job right. And he is trying to recruit a panel of county residents with ideas on how to shrink the system.

"It's like big business is finding out that if you become too big you become inefficient," the Ferndale resident said.

"What I want to do is get a bunch of citizens together . . . who would be willing to put this down on paper and who would be willing to make suggestions on how we can make meaningful changes,"

He has scheduled a meeting for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the county Police Department's Eastern District station on Mountain Road near Jacobsville Elementary school.

Mr. Holmes, whose three sons attended area schools, said he is calling his idea "Take Back Our Schools."

His ideas include breaking the school system into several small districts with individual boards, establishing regional school boards within the county, or having the county school board and superintendent oversee schools managed by local parents.

Under the current set-up, the school board has eight members, one from each of four state legislative districts, three at-large members and a student member. The system is administered from board headquarters in Annapolis through four area offices.

"I don't have any problem at all with how the school system is set up -- except that it is too big," Mr. Holmes said.

Parents feel they have no voice in their schools because decisions are made at school board headquarters, he said.

"If the communities don't have any control over those decisions, they don't have any power," he said.

State Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel, said the county's General Assembly delegation would like to hear any ideas that come out of Mr. Holmes' panel, though he is opposed to breaking up the state's fifth-largest school system.

He is concerned that creating regional boards would lead to squabbling over construction money and other resources.

"I personally think it's a mistake," Mr. Jimeno said.

Carolyn Roeding, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, said the idea of local management "pops up about the same time every year."

But the PTA council has not polled its members and has no position, she added.

"But if each district spent its own tax dollars, Severna Park would be able to generate more money than Brooklyn Park and that could create a problem," she said.

Anne Young, president of the Countywide Citizen Advisory Committee, said the idea of having local school boards is one that should be explored.

"When they switch to school-based management at some point in the future, it would make sense to consider having some sort of local mini-boards by feeder system," said Mrs. Young.

"But it wouldn't make sense to do away with the resources of the central offices."

The county has a dozen feeder systems, so-called because groups of elementary school feed into middle schools which feed into a single high school. But some communities are split between two feeder systems.

Mrs. Young said a system of regional boards would not work unless the school attendance boundaries are redrawn to avoid splitting communities.

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