Parents ask for money for schools Balto. Co. buildings crowded, need repair

February 07, 1997|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

More than 20 parents delivered their own budget message to the Baltimore County school board last night: more money to fix leaking roofs and broken boilers, clean dirty buildings, ease crowded classrooms and get more computers.

"I support your efforts to do the best you think you can do," Mary Pat Kahle, PTA president of Pot Spring Elementary, told the board at a public hearing on the superintendent's proposed $630 million budget for next year.

"But I lament the lack of money to do more and the lack of creativity and courage to do more with what we have," Kahle said.

The parents came from all over the county, but they struck similar notes: too many students -- 38 or more in some situations -- piled into too few cramped, aging classrooms.

Many begged for computers.

"In some cases, we are training students on computers for which parts are no longer available," said Gwen Tisdale, a member of the school system's career and technology advisory council.

But the most common complaint was about decaying buildings. Since March, three county schools have been closed because of environmental problems: chemicals leaking from heating units, mold infestation and asbestos.

Dawn Ryan is PTA president at Fullerton Elementary, which was closed for more than a week last fall because of mold and other problems. She said students and teachers are still getting sick, which she blamed on fiberglass-lined ducts in the building.

"We have houses going up for sale. We have teachers applying for transfers. We really need your help," Ryan said.

"Increase the dollar amount for facilities, and let the county DTC government and county executive decide you can't have millions more," said Phyllis Bloom, a parent with children at Franklin Middle and Franklin High.

"At Franklin Middle, we say a little prayer every day that the one boiler in operation doesn't go down," Bloom said.

At Featherbed Elementary, the roof above the gym-auditorium leaks so badly that "when it rains it pours, literally," said PTA president Betty Brown.

The proposed budget, which Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione presented to the board last week, would add 135 teachers, give modest raises to all employees and cut administrative jobs, but would give relatively low priority to many of the system's maintenance needs.

The spending plan, an increase of 5.3 percent over this year's budget, aims to draw better-qualified teachers to a system that officials say has let salaries lag behind surrounding counties.

For the second year, Marchione has split the request into two tiers, high priority and low priority lists, which pleases elected officials because it allows them to cut without looking like the bad guy.

The first tier, about $26 million, is what the county is required to budget under the state's "maintenance of effort" law that says counties must contribute at least as much per pupil as the year before to receive state aid.

In that tier, Marchione has included $10.5 million for 2.5 percent pay raises for all 13,100 employees and $5.1 million for 165 new hires to accommodate the 2,000 new students expected next year.

Average class sizes in middle schools would decrease slightly, from 18.8 to 18.7 students, though parents complain that the school system's formulas yield deceptively low averages.

The top tier adds $500,000 to the $7 million maintenance budget, leaving the bulk of the maintenance needs -- $2.36 million -- for the lower-priority list, which has a smaller chance of being funded. County government has earmarked $1 million in emergency funds this year to evaluate all 160 school buildings' maintenance needs.

The proposed maintenance budget "won't begin to touch these problems," Kahle told the board last night.

The board is scheduled to vote on the budget Feb. 25 and send it to the county executive for action. The spending plan then goes to the County Council, which has until June 1 to adopt a budget.

Among requests in the second tier -- a $5.3 million "supplemental" budget -- Marchione is asking for $1 million to expand a teacher mentor program at schools with a high number of inexperienced instructors.

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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