Gifted classes spark effort Backers seeking high-profile support for dropped program

October 21, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Die-hard supporters of gifted and talented programs cut out of Anne Arundel County middle schools last summer are turning to Rosie O'Donnell, Oprah Winfrey and Montel Williams, among others, for help in getting the programs refunded.

The TV talk show hosts are among 70 people, well known and not so well known, who Keith Smith, a former gifted and talented teacher, hopes will plead his case to the county school board and County Executive John G. Gary .

Smith, head of a newly formed group of parents, is organizing a postcard campaign to ask people he believes have a commitment to education to write to Anne Arundel officials demanding that the budget surplus be used to restore gifted and talented programs to the county's 18 middle schools.

"I have no doubt that a lot of them will respond," he said. "They are not only high-profile people, but their commitment to education is well documented."

Alex Trebek, host of the television game show "Jeopardy," Cal Ripken Jr., Larry King, Jay Leno, the Rev. Jerry Falwell and President Clinton are on his mailing list, Smith said.

Smith said he has met some of the people on the list through school field trips, and others when he was a track and field official at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

His fledging group of about a dozen parents will give 2,500 postcards, each addressed to the board and containing a short message, to school PTA groups, community action councils and student governments. Those groups will pass out the cards to be mailed.

Tough sell

"I fully expect the program to be reinstated by February," he said. "I have the names of the gifted and talented coordinators in all 50 states, and I will be writing to them and asking them to write letters, too."

It is likely to be a tough sell. Smith will have to convince school board members and county officials that the Renzulli Schoolwide Enrichment Model benefits all students and not just the gifted.

Lisa Ritter, Gary's spokeswoman, said she does not know whether Gary will include the program in his recommendations for the surplus, which he will announce Friday.

"I know that Mr. Gary has always been supportive of the gifted and talented program," Ritter said. "But surplus money is used for one-time expenses. You don't want to use budget surplus funds to hire additional staff."

Gary has spoken to county schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham and will take her recommendations into consideration, Ritter said.

Parham would not comment yesterday on the postcard campaign or whether the program should be reinstated.

"Zero chance"

If the program is restored, the school system will have to hire 18 teachers to fill the classroom positions that the gifted and talented teachers were shifted to in September.

Board member Paul Rudolph said there is "zero" chance the programs will be reinstated in February.

"It would have to be done between school years," he said. "We can't take the teachers out of the classroom now. It would be too disruptive. And there would be a shortfall of 18 teachers."

Rudolph said he does not think the program should be reinstated because only 3,500 of the 15,006 middle school students in the county were involved in it.

"It addresses too small a group of students for the price," he said.

Vaughn Brown, another board member, said that although he is a "great fan" of the gifted and talented program, it is a low priority.

"It will not be a priority over classroom teachers," he said. "And I don't consider it an appropriate use for surplus money. There are many, many other things that we need."

"Renovations and repairs"

There are three priorities, said board member Thomas E. Florestano.

"Renovations and repairs, renovations and repairs and renovations and repairs," he said. "Period, end of discussion."

As in any budget legislation, Gary's recommendations must get County Council approval.

Councilman John J. Klocko III said he has talked with Smith extensively about the program and supports having it return to the middle schools. But he agrees that it is not how surplus money should be spent.

"And I don't see it as a very practical shift that could be made in midyear," he said.

The county school board cut the $950,000 gifted and talented program in June as part of $9 million in cuts the board said it had to make because Gary and the County Council did not give them enough money to operate the county's 117 schools at the same level as last year.

Pub Date: 10/21/98

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