More money for books proposed School board wants texts replaced more often

'An untenable situation'

Changes considered for system's drug policy

November 27, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Saying that six years of tight budgets have taken a toll on classrooms, Howard County educators last night proposed boosting the amount the school board spends each year to buy and replace textbooks and library books.

Also last night, the board heard testimony on proposed changes to the school system's drug and alcohol policy, including opposition to a suggestion that students be found in violation if they are in "constructive possession" -- meaning that students are in the presence of drugs and alcohol, have access to possess and control them and fail to get out of the area.

The proposal to increase spending on books would allow the system to replace all textbooks regularly and significantly boost the number of volumes in the county's smaller school libraries, beginning next fall.

Howard schools are spending slightly more than half as much per pupil on textbooks this year as they did six years ago, but the price of textbooks has increased dramatically during that time, said H. Thomas Walker, the county's director of instructional materials.

"This obviously creates an untenable situation for us," Walker told the board.

The school system spent $42.07 per pupil on textbooks in 1990-91 but plans to spend only $23.73 this school year, he said. The cost of a textbook used for fifth-grade language arts has increased 74 percent during the period -- a trend representative of most other subject areas and grade levels.

The proposal calls on the board to increase the amount it will spend on textbooks by 50 percent annually, allowing the system to begin a regular cycle of replacing all textbooks every eight years.

The board has set aside $923,000 for textbooks this school year. Under the proposal, that would increase to $1.4 million a year. That total includes $977,000 for the replacement of old textbooks and about $420,000 to purchase textbooks for new students.

Walker said current spending allows books to be replaced each decade or longer.

School officials said they had hoped to increase spending enough to begin a cycle of replacing books every five years, but they said the $2 million annual cost appeared to be prohibitive.

Nevertheless, school officials said they also are setting up centralized inventory and purchasing systems that will allow schools to save money by buying books in greater bulk and ensuring they don't sit unused in one school when another school is able to use them. Savings from the centralized system -- which might be as much as 15 to 20 percent of current spending -- may allow textbooks to be replaced more often, Walker said.

Board members embraced the plan, saying they frequently hear complaints from parents about old textbooks.

The board will consider the proposal when it begins work in January on an operating budget for the 1997-98 school year. Several members said they hope to find more money than the proposed increase to accelerate replacement of textbooks.

"I think that a five-year plan is the only one that makes sense," said board member Karen Campbell.

Regarding the drugs and alcohol, four people -- including one representing the county PTA Council's executive committee -- said the board should not include constructive possession in its policy.

School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said constructive possession already is part of state law and is enforced by county police.

The school system also uses it as part of the enforcement of its current policy, Hickey said. The change would make the definition a formal part of the policy.

But opponents of the change said they fear students who aren't involved with drugs and alcohol but just happen to be in the area will be unfairly punished.

"The PTA Council is afraid of the terrible message that would be sent to students of Howard County," said Susan Poole, the council's first vice president. She said the change would make the school environment a "police state" and be a "direct attack on the innocent child."

Pub Date: 11/27/96

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