Parents' protests pump more money into school

April 14, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

Just how effective is the squeaky wheel?

White parents at Hillendale Elementary School found plenty of grease available when they complained that their children were denied admission to the new, high-tech Cromwell Valley Elementary School magnet program because of their race.

Suddenly, Baltimore County school officials are promising to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into Hillendale -- which is predominantly black -- and possibly make Hillendale a magnet school, too.

Some Hillendale parents were surprised that they were able to extract the promises after only one meeting with Superintendent Stuart Berger.

"I've been in the school for nine years. It's very strange that all this money becomes available now," said Denise Allen, a Hillendale parent and teachers' aide. "They are pretty much giving us leeway on how to utilize the money. It's just amazing."

Mrs. Allen's two children were among those rejected for Cromwell, which will open as a regional magnet school of technology in September for children currently attending seven nearby schools.

Depending on who is doing the promising, county officials are talking about $200,000 to $600,000 for Hillendale. The money would be used as early as next fall for equipment and intensive teacher training. Then the school system, with help from Hillendale parents and teachers, will develop a magnet school proposal for as early as September 1995.

"We're on a fast track to improve the quality of education over there -- which is what they [the parents] asked for," said Anita Stockton, director of magnet schools.

The money could help county officials slide out of the sticky position they found themselves in by rejecting students for popular new magnet programs at Cromwell and at Sudbrook Middle School because they were the wrong race or wrong gender.

Cromwell accepted all 70 black Hillendale students who applied, but turned down all 30 white Hillendale students. Officials said the departure of white students would increase Hillendale's minority enrollment percentage and jeopardize federal desegregation funds the school system is using to help set up its magnet programs.

More than 88 percent of Hillendale's enrollment is black. The other feeder schools for Cromwell have largely white enrollments. As a result, about one-fourth of Cromwell's students will be minorities -- mirroring the countywide enrollment makeup.

If a magnet is established at Hillendale, it will probably draw students from the same schools as Cromwell, though the emphasis would be on accepting white students -- again to increase integration, said Ms. Stockton.

"Hillendale would address overcrowding at nearby schools. It will feature technology but it will also feature some other kinds of attractive programs," she said, so there would be specific reasons for children to choose between Cromwell and Hillendale.

The Hillendale parents said they told Dr. Berger they were not upset about having to stay at Hillendale, but about being denied the opportunities at Cromwell, which will have state-of-the-art technology, satellite hookups and a television station.

"We feel that [Hillendale] in itself is good, the staff is great," Mrs. Allen said. But she said it does not have "the premier program" planned for Cromwell.

"We are happy with what the administration came back with," she added.

Because its students scored low on the Maryland State Performance Assessment Program tests, Hillendale was already slated to receive an extra $200,000 next year as part of a $5 million enhancement package Dr. Berger has put in his budget for needy schools.

Beyond that, "We always have money for supplies and materials, and that's where it's going to come from," said Dr. Berger, who estimated Hillendale's total windfall at about $400,000.

Michael Cohen, elementary school director for the central area, said it would take as much as $600,000 to $700,000 to put a full magnet program together.

Although Mr. Cohen said his office has been exploring ways to improve Hillendale for more than a year, Dr. Stockton conceded that the speedup is the result of the complaints.

Officials are also discussing more magnet middle school programs in the northwestern part of the county, aimed at the 400 students turned away from the new Sudbrook magnet, which will open in September.

"There's more demand than capacity," Dr. Berger said. "But I don't want to do it unless we can do it right."

Dr. Berger said his staff is looking into the possibility of magnet programs at nearby Old Court Middle and at Johnnycake or Deer Park Middle schools, probably for the 1995-96 school year.

When they selected students for Sudbrook, officials also said they could not take too many white students out of nearby schools without substantially increasing their minority enrollment percentage, a rationale that angered many parents.

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