Officials reluctant to let parents pay for classroom Board to consider Woodbridge proposal

June 16, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The unprecedented offer by Woodbridge Elementary parents to raise more than $20,000 for a portable classroom to create Baltimore County's first kindergarten through 8th-grade school has ignited debate over how far parents should go in paying for basic school services.

While willing to accept fund-raising for field trips, stadium lights, computers and playground equipment, some county educators and school board members balk at parents footing the bill for renovations and new classrooms.

"I'm not sure we want parents paying for that kind of thing," said school board president Dunbar Brooks.

The school board is expected to take up the Woodbridge proposal at its meeting tonight when it votes on proposals to redistrict two overcrowded middle schools in the western and northwestern areas of the county and establish boundary lines for the new Sparks Elementary School.

Students from the Woodbridge Valley community -- on the western edge of the county, just south of Interstate 70 and west of Interstate 695 -- attend Southwest Academy, one of the overcrowded middle schools up for a boundary change at tonight's meeting.

The parents say that creating a K-8 school at Woodbridge would reduce crowding at the middle school while permitting their children to attend school in a smaller, more nurturing environment.

Their offer to raise money for a rental classroom is earning some fans among county politicians.

"I think this is a great effort," said Baltimore County Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat. "The parents were told that cost was a big issue, and they showed that they feel strongly enough about it that they went out and raised the money."

Many PTAs, booster clubs and other parent groups in schools throughout Baltimore's suburbs regularly raise tens of thousands dollars per year by selling pizza, cookies, coupon books, plants, frozen dinners, class photos and dozens of other products.

In Howard County -- the only area district to track all school fund-raising -- the 60 schools have reported earning a total of about $1 million per year through fund raising the last couple of years.

The money typically is spent on such items as cultural assemblies and field trips -- though sometimes it is used to buy playground equipment, football stadium lights, books and computers.

But educators typically have discouraged parents from raising money for such core school services as classroom renovations and teachers' salaries.

In New York last fall, parents at one public school raised $46,000 to pay the salary of a popular teacher who was about to be the victim of budget cuts. The city's school chancellor refused to allow the parents to do that, though he eventually agreed to pay the teacher out of regular school funds.

Baltimore County educators and school board members characterize the offer from Woodbridge parents as being similar to what occurred in New York.

"I think that allowing the parents to pay for this portable classroom would probably put us on a slippery slope," said Baltimore County schools spokesman Donald I. Mohler. "This is not a recommendation that the staff is going to put forward" at tonight's meeting.

In spring 1997, school officials permitted Woodbridge Elementary to keep its sixth-graders in the 1997-98 school year because the school had space and to relieve some overcrowding at Southwest Academy.

But this spring, school officials rejected adding seventh grade to Woodbridge, saying the school lacks adequate classroom space.

Making Woodbridge into a K-8 school -- as Woodbridge parents eventually would like to do -- also likely would require such expensive renovations as an expanded cafeteria, new science laboratories and additional playing fields, Southwest Area Superintendent Donna L. Smither said.

School officials have said they still are open to trying a K-8 school in the county.

But the Woodbridge parents are taking their case to the school board.

In a move unprecedented in Baltimore County, they also began raising money to install and rent a portable classroom. Within a week of a brief announcement, the parents had collected pledges for more than $20,000.

"This shows how strongly all of the parents believe in the K-8 school," said Sherman Reed, who heads the Woodbridge parents' group. "Parents are already being forced to raise money for so many other things in schools, so why should this be different?"

Two prominent area politicians have thrown their support behind the proposal from the Woodbridge parents -- Moxley and Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, both Democrats who represent the area.

At the school board's recent public hearing on redistricting, Dewberry pledged that renovations needed to make Woodbridge a K-8 school would be his top school construction priority for the next legislative session.

Still, the Woodbridge parents do not have the support of C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's office.

Michael H. Davis, Ruppersberger's spokesman, said the executive trusts the educators' judgment on educational policy and is hesitant to have parents paying for school construction.

"We're not in favor of parents paying for portable classrooms," Davis said. "If it is something that the school system believes is required, then the school system should pay for it."

Pub Date: 6/16/98

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