A program to help underachieving black students was criticized last night by Howard County school board members who wanted to see the program expanded to help all underachievers.
At issue was the $80,000 in the proposed budget earmarked for continuing the Black Student Achievement Program (BSAP) and hiring more academic monitors.
Under the program, parents are hired to help underachieving black students through support and encouragement. Academic monitors serve as a third party to help bridge the communication gap between some parents and their children's teachers.
While praising the success of the program, three board members said they didn't want to see these services restricted to black students.
"We have probably a large number of students at-risk who are not African American, who would also benefit from this kind of monitoring, this kind of oversight," said Dr. Karen Campbell, a board member. "If that means in another budget year we have to come back with non-BSAP academic monitors, then we have to consider that. There are lots of at-risk kids who need these kinds of services."
Newly-elected board member Stephen Bounds asked for an analysis of the program -- its effectiveness, how many students it serves and its per pupil cost.
And board member Linda Johnston said the county needs to look at how it is meeting the needs of other at-risk students, such as non-English speaking students.
For more than three hours last night, board members discussed Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's proposed $228.9 million budget for next school year.
Department heads were called to justify their spending proposals.
Board members made no decisions on whether to cut or add to the budget last night, but they indicated what areas they would support based on the questions they asked. Ms. Johnston spoke up for physical education and health subjects, while Dr. Campbell, a veterinarian, supported math and science. Board member Sandra French lobbied for reading.
The board will hold another work session tomorrow and will vote on the proposed budget next Tuesday and submit it to County Executive Charles I. Ecker next month.
Also last night, the board discussed the 10 instructional assistants that are to be hired to help middle school students in math. Mr. Bounds asked why the assistants were needed.
Janie Zimmer-Long, the school system's math supervisor, responded that math becomes more abstract and difficult for students in the middle-school years. The assistants would help students who are doing poorly.
"The middle-school years are the most critical years in math," Ms. Zimmer-Long said. "For some students, [math] becomes very scary. They become very anxious in doing this, and they need a little hand-holding, a little encouragement to get over the hurdle."
Ms. French questioned why there is no proposal to hire assistants for other subjects, such as reading, an area in which county students performed poorly on state tests. School officials said they couldn't provide them for other subjects because of limited funds.
Dr. Campbell supported the hiring of the assistants.