Lowering class sizes, addressing the mainstreaming of special education students and renovating older schools were among the chief concerns of about 50 parents who attended last night's Howard County school board hearing on the proposed capital budget for next year.
Some of the parents asked for new ventilation systems, computers and bus service.
The county expects more than 12,500 new students in the next 10 years. As a result, school officials have the daunting task of building 13 new schools and renovating and building additions to about a dozen others, hiring hundreds of new teachers and buying thousands of new books.
Parents asked last night for adequate funds in next year's budget to remedy current problems, such as disruptions caused last month when school officials moved six teachers to schools with higher-than-expected enrollments. At least a dozen parents, some angered at the moves, urged the board to increase the number of surplus teachers in the pool used to staff those schools.
"That pool has all too often been the subject of budget cuts, and this cannot be allowed to continue," said Rosemary Mortimer, a parent. "We can't allow ourselves to begin the year with inadequate staffing before the school doors even open. It is patently unfair to our children and their parents that classroom teachers are pulled from their classrooms once the year has begun."
Although the number of teachers in the pool has doubled over the years, "it is still not enough for a school system whose needs are continually changing," said Janet Oken, a parent at Swansfield Elementary School.
Other parents asked school officials to consider special education students when they figure staffing requirements.
Even though many special education students have been placed in general education classrooms, they are not counted when school officials determine teacher-student ratios.
Joseph Annelli, president of the Ellicott Mill Middle School PTA, told the board that it was imperative to repair or replace the 55-year-old school, which has inadequate lighting and space in the computer room, and obsolete science facilities.
"We all agree that the building is educationally and physically obsolete and needs replacement," he said. "We are embarrassed that the professional educators in this county would allow this situation to continue any longer."
Philip Arbaugh, representing the Howard County Association of Elementary School Administrators, asked the board to add full-time guidance counselors and part-time psychologists at every elementary school.
"As our students' needs become more complex each year, we must be able to provide the resources to meet their personal, social and societal needs," he said.
Lynn Benton, president of the PTA Council of Howard County, told the board that her organization supported the proposal to build additions to high schools to increase enrollment to 1,400 students at each school. But she expressed concern that the proposed capital budget included no plans to enlarge gymnasiums, cafeterias and auditoriums.
James Swab, head of the Howard County Education Association, the teachers union, suggested no more hiring of central office administrators and coordinators until class sizes have been reduced. He also suggested postponing a plan to increase the number of teachers for gifted and talented high school students.
"The four-period day has compounded the class-size problem," he said. "Hiring more regular classroom teachers should become the priority in our high schools, not hiring additional gifted and talented resource teachers."
A half-dozen Mount Hebron High School students and parents pleaded with the board to reduce the school's 1,300-student enrollment, which has resulted in students having to eat lunch in hallways and park their cars across Route 99, a busy thoroughfare.
The board will hold a public work session on the capital budget Tuesday and vote on the plan Thursday .