Anne Arundel school draws Md. warning State threatens takeover of Van Bokkelen after decade of problems

January 25, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel and Ellen Gamerman | Andrea F. Siegel and Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

It is an embarrassment for Anne Arundel County.

For the first time, a failing suburban school is being threatened with state takeover. That school -- Van Bokkelen Elementary -- has had serious and obvious problems for more than a decade.

The state's warning is evidence that deep in the suburbs, there are pockets of poverty just as challenging for suburban schools as inner-city schools. Van Bokkelen's population is highly transient, and 300 households in the school's enrollment area have incomes of less than $10,000. It has the highest percentage of elementary students receiving free lunches in the county.

"Just because we get outside the Beltway, many people don't think we have the same challenges, but we do in our county," said Vincent O. Leggett, a former county school board president who served on the panel from 1988 to 1993.

But it also raises serious questions about the Anne Arundel school system. Since the school near Fort Meade opened in 1973, school board members and others say, money has gone to the richer schools with powerful parent organizations that know how to lobby county officials and pressure the school board.

"You could have seen it coming like an 18-wheeler," said former school board member Jo Ann Tollenger.

For Van Bokkelen, the problems are great, the supporters few.

For example, a plan to give the community a center that would include everything from a job bank to after-school recreation to a site for adult literacy classes died when the councilman behind it lost his seat in 1993.

"Van Bokkelen needed more support to help enhance the quality of life for the families in that neighborhood," said David G. Boschert, the former County Council member who urged it. "I think it fell through the cracks because of the change in administration and the change in the county council.

"It is in a neighborhood that is better known for crime and that kind of thing," Mr. Boschert said.

Only a few miles away, the people in Millersville have no trouble getting attention.

A massive lobbying blitz by parents from the middle class community in 1989 resulted in construction of Shipley's Choice Elementary. The parents, who had been sending their children to a school six miles away, delivered custom-made booklets to board of education members calling for the new school. The board could not ignore the plea.

"To say you don't listen to those active parents, that would be a damn lie. But you are supposed to spread it [money] around," Ms. Tollenger said.

Shipley's Choice had among the highest MSPAP test scores of the county's 76 elementary schools.

Mr. Leggett said even when the school board did funnel money toward Van Bokkelen, residents from more affluent communities accused the board members of "gold-plating" Van Bokkelen. He said Van Bokkelen was struggling because, unlike other schools, all it had was public money.

"Always in wealthy communities, residents are always subsidizing what they get from the school budget," he said. "They have a fund-raiser or some Perrier water and blackened brie and raise $10,000 for new curtains or a playground set. But Van Bokkelen doesn't have those kind of resources."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.