Schools: Where are We Headed?

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

June 25, 1995

The Howard and Baltimore county councils' recent moves to cut their school systems' administrative budgets may be well-meaning, but lack "real-worldliness."

Realistically, the school administrations will remain intact, and by some magic formula, the lack of funding will be filtered down to the kids and their classroom teachers. However, it will be all right, because the kids will understand fewer textbooks and a few more kids in their classroom, one of them perhaps physically or mentally challenged.

The teachers also will understand a lack of money to hire another teaching assistant to help with the challenged child and a few others who could use some help. The teachers will understand a little more paperwork generated by those outside the classroom who continually "improve the program."

The kids will continue to be educated to the best of the abilities of all the people who work with them. The County Councils will go home smiling about their ability to balance the budget while providing for an excellent educational system.

Does it sound like a fairy tale with the usual happy ending? It isn't.

Janet Olsen

Columbia

I watched the letters to the editor by parents frustrated by their children's performance, or by actions taken by the school system. I have come to the firm conclusion that every parent should be required by law to be a substitute teacher at least one day a year.

We need the first-hand knowledge that citizens could obtain by being required to serve -- something like the jury duty system. They need to understand that the schools (and colleges) must have tight discipline, dress codes and proper respect for everyone in the system.

We need some kind of reporting system on parents who plan to send children to public school. Perhaps an FBI report on how many books they read to their children each year, how many hours a week they spend walking and talking with their children, and how many times they had been observed telling their children how many stupid things they did.

I was pleased to see the respect paid to former Superintendent John Yingling. He appointed school principals and told them they were in charge. If they demonstrated that they could do the job, they stayed. I am sure he would not be buying or renting (as in the city) computers for children who had not yet learned to read, write and add.

Things went awry when Mr. Yingling's replacement was brought on board. His experience was in the procurement side of the education system. The New Town fathers wanted experimental schools as a vital part of their sales policy.

The result was that the superintendent went after federal grants and brought in the failed open space facility and instruction system. I was on the council during the period the superintendent started submitting his budget plans for converting the schools into open space schools. The best deal was to close two high schools and half of a third one and bring in mobile classrooms, while three schools were being modified. He had the governor set up a meeting to arbitrate our decision.

At the meeting, we simply said it was not open to arbitration. In addition, he started budgeting for a huge new administrative staff. We knew the intent was to build his micro-management team. We transferred the money to the instruction side of the budget. This occurred each year until a new County Council was brought in and signed onto his whole program. . . .

I was surprised to see, in a recent news story, that the present school board plans to tap the maintenance budget for some of its projects that were cut. I would say that the school board members and the superintendent are personally accountable (and liable) for the ramifications of any such action.

I would say, however, that we should give the school board a veto over comprehensive rezoning by the County Council.

It must be mandatory for the County Council to declare certain lands the property of the school system every time they increase the density of any residential lands. The adequate facilities legislation is ineffectual, because the County Council is not required to abide by or enforce it.

James M. Holway

Ellicott City

Incentives for Preservation

We at Braebrooke were pleased to see your editorial, "Closing Historic Preservation Loophole" (June 13), but must clarify what our homeowners association is proposing. The property tax credit and moratorium on demolitions are not ends in themselves but merely tools to achieve the goal of historic preservation.

What we are really advocating is the formation of a task force -- representing the full spectrum of views from strict preservationists to large developers. This group would hammer out an inclusive compromise using Montgomery County's historic preservation ordinance and the "model code" from the National Trust for Historic Preservation as starting points. A moratorium on destructions would be useful while the task force does its work.

We are very mindful of why the county's previous effort at preservation legislation failed, but we also know that piecemeal remedies (such as a tax break on its own) will not close the "loophole."

There is too much money involved for developers to be gently induced simply by relatively modest government incentive. Where a 10 percent tax break might mean something to the individual historic homeowner, it would mean less than $1,000 for the developer of the Papillon/Woodlawn property -- a multi-million dollar project. . . .

We don't pretend that there are easy solutions but we can only move forward from the "buy, burn, build and community interest be damned" situation that exists today.

Scott Billigmeier

Ellicott City

The writer is secretary of the Braebrooke Homeowners Association.

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