In a departure from past practice, the Harford County school system has agreed to contribute money for playground equipment, a decision that will benefit nine schools immediately.
"In the past, playground equipment purchases were left up to the PTAs. It was not considered a function of the school system," said Donald R. Morrison, spokesman for county schools.
The school system will provide about $50,000 toward the $135,000 cost of buying the equipment. PTAs are expected to contribute about $23,500, and the rest will come from the county Parks and Recreation Department.
Mr. Morrison said the school system decided to contribute because of the demand for playground equipment at the schools in the evenings and on weekends.
Schools under construction, such as Emmorton Elementary, which is scheduled to open this fall, and Forest Lakes Elementary, scheduled to open in 1997, will have playground equipment when they are finished, he said. The money already is included in their budgets and is not part of the latest allocation.
Abingdon Elementary, which opened two years ago, and Fountain Green Elementary, which opened this year, still lack playground equipment. Each will get about $25,000 for equipment.
Abingdon's PTA raised about $2,500 of the $25,000 for its school. The school system will pay $10,000 and Parks and Recreation, $12,500.
Because of the lack of play equipment at Abingdon Elementary, children play group games, such as tossing a ball, said Principal J. Lawrence Mills. Andre A. Fournier, president of the Harford County Council of PTAs, said PTAs should not be raising funds for playgrounds.
"PTAs are suppose to be issue-based. We should be concentrating our resources on lobbying politicians for more money to spend in our classrooms," he said.
He also questioned the use of school funds for playgrounds.
If schools are going to raise funds, he said,they should concentrate on enriching the curriculum by buying computers or paying for field trips and cultural events.
"There are schools which still have leaky roofs or don't have air conditioning. Those are important needs, because children spend more time in the classroom than in the outside environment. I think that's where a school system should spend its money first," he said.
But PTAs say playgrounds are important to children and that waiting for the county to come through with funding could take years.
Churchville Elementary's PTA raised about $20,000 in two years to install playground equipment at the school, said PTA President Melinda Murray.
The school system's old playground equipment there was declared unsafe in December because it was deteriorating and the ground around it was very hard.
"Playgrounds are just as important as computers. Children need a time to play," said Mrs. Murray, who has three children at the school.
To pay for the equipment the PTA held fund-raisers and solicited corporate donations. The result is one large piece of equipment that includes five slides, two overhead bars and numerous steps and climbing apparatus. The structure, which has four sections, sits on a heavily mulched base surrounded by wooden bars.
At Deerfield Elementary in Edgewood the now "decaying" playground equipment was installed when the school opened 31 years ago, said Principal Rachael R. Reid.
Dr. Reid said her husband and some PTA members repainted the old metal equipment a few years ago. She said the $10,000 given to the school in latest round of allocations will buy a "small amount of new equipment for kindergartners and first-graders."
The PTA will hold fund-raisers again next year to raise money to buy more equipment, she said.
The other schools designated to get new equipment are Hall's Cross Roads Elementary in Aberdeen, $25,000; Edgewood Elementary, $12,500; Forest Hill Elementary, $9,000; and North Harford Elementary, $7,000.
Schools besides Deerfield that will get $10,000 each are Meadowvale Elementary in Havre de Grace and Norrisville Elementary.
The county has also set aside money to buy playground equipment for Edgewater Park in Edgewood, Flying Point Park off Otter Point Creek near Crestwood Acres, Francis Silver Park in Darlington, Fox Meadow Park in Bel Air, Heavenly Waters Park in Bel Air, Mariner Point and Robert Copenhaver parks in Joppatowne, and William Longley Park in Abingdon.