Behind the times Howard County: Embrace proposal to speed textbook replacement in public schools.

December 02, 1996

TEXTBOOKS STUFFED in the backpacks of county public students don't have expiration dates, but some of them have lost their freshness. In subjects such as science and social studies, so much can change in a decade. They need to be replaced more frequently than at present. Some textbooks still circulating in county schools were copyrighted in the second term of the Reagan administration and before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Even more disturbing, the county spends only about half what it used to spend for textbooks per-pupil six years ago. The lack of spending couldn't have come at a worse time -- the cost of some textbooks has soared 74 percent in six years, says H. Thomas Walker, Howard County Public Schools' director of instruction materials.

The rising cost of these valuable sources of information is another problem that ought to be addressed at some point. For now, the school system must swallow hard and provide current material to students.

We welcome Mr. Walker's proposal to increase textbook spending by about 50 percent annually, to $1.4 million a year. The beefier budget would enable the system to begin an eight-year cycle of replacing old textbooks. This is a good start. School Board member Karen Campbell suggested a five-year cycle, a goal worthy of consideration, at least in future budgets. Right now, 12-year-old books are in use. Parents, teachers and principals complain of being stuck with outdated materials.

School administrators want to use this opportunity to centralize the book-distribution system, so materials can be transferred more easily between schools with a surplus of books and schools lacking reading material. The biggest benefit to this revised operation is the potential for saving money, perhaps as much as 15 or 20 percent of current spending, through greater bulk purchases.

When the board considers the proposed spending increase for its 1997-98 operating budget, it must remember the years of neglect. After allowing per-pupil spending on textbooks to dwindle for years, the board must seek at least the amount proposed. But the board truly would be doing its job if it found the money to replace textbooks even more frequently.

Pub Date: 12/02/96

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