Charge plates and vanity plates Schools re-open for 26,000 students, with changes in cafeteria, classroom.

August 26, 1996

PAPER OR PLASTIC? Not at the supermarket checkout, but at Carroll County school cafeterias this fall where parents can use credit cards to pay for a year's lunches in advance, and get a discount. (But no refunds for missed meals.)

Paper money (and coins) will still be accepted, but Carroll officials expect the credit-card charge to win favor, as it has in Howard County for eight years. Some jurisdictions, such as Baltimore County, offer prepaid debit-cards for a set number of lunches. But more significant changes are in store for Carroll County schools when more than 26,000 youngsters return to the classroom today.

Four high schools (all but Liberty) will employ some version of the four-period day this fall. North Carroll has successfully used the double-period "block scheduling" for three years. Westminster, South Carroll and Francis Scott Key will institute their unique variations this fall, having won endorsement from more than 75 percent of the faculty.

The longer class periods are expected to help improve learning, raise test scores and reduce absenteeism and dropout rates, as has been the case at North Carroll. Each school made its own decision, but support for the change is widespread. Longer class periods (with fewer class-change disruptions) for older students have been adopted in a dozen school systems across Maryland and elsewhere in the country.

Another innovation, gradeless report cards for primary grades, will be tested in a pilot project at four elementary schools. The cards will measure achievements with more detailed evaluations of performance.

No new school will open in the county until 1997 -- in January, when the Oklahoma Road Middle School is expected to be ready for 750 pupils in the second semester, primarily to relieve overcrowding at Sykesville Middle (where at least 10 portables will be used this fall.)

Local funding now pays for 60 percent of the school budget. Carroll County approved a 16 percent increase in the piggyback income tax rate last year, earmarked for construction of new schools. Taking a page from Frederick County, supporters of Carroll schools this summer ordered "vanity" auto license plates from the state Motor Vehicle Administration, the extra fees to pay for computers in classrooms.

Pub Date: 8/26/96

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