Poly and Western seeking fairness in school funding

April 04, 1999|By GREGORY KANE

THE LAST TIME Doug O'Connell checked, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute needed more money for its Ingenuity Program, laboratory courses, athletic teams and the school's five foreign language courses: French, Spanish, German, Japanese and Chinese.

"We're being asked to do more and more with fewer resources," O'Connell, head of Poly's school improvement team and a biology teacher at the school for five years, lamented. Last Friday, O'Connell dashed off a letter to Robert Booker, chief executive officer of the Baltimore public schools, to ask why, when Poly was underfunded, another public school, Baltimore City College, gets more than $3 million that other city schools don't get.

O'Connell said Poly's Ingenuity Program, designed to identify and encourage students with superior scientific ability, is privately funded by the Abell Foundation.

"We are allocated one staffing position for that," O'Connell said, "but we should receive more." City's budget, O'Connell said, is about 70 percent more than Poly's.

"But this isn't a Poly vs. City issue," O'Connell stressed. "It's an equity-of-funding issue."

It's hard to challenge him. City vs. Poly is fine in football. But we're talking education here. And at Tuesday's school board meeting, city officials were hard pressed to justify the disparity, although Booker implied it might have something to do with City's custodial budget. Three and a half million for cleaning up the joint? What are they using at City, laser-powered cleaning equipment?

If you think the folks at Poly are in high dudgeon, that this is just a manifestation of the old City-Poly rivalry rearing its head, think again. The young ladies at Western -- my favorite high school ever, my lack of alumna status notwithstanding -- also have a few bones to pick with Booker and the school board.

Mandi Brown is a Western senior. She carries a 3.72 grade point average and scored 1,250 on the SAT. She wants to major in biomedical engineering when she goes to the University of Maryland, College Park in September. She would have loved to take Western's advanced placement courses in calculus and biology this year. But there was one hurdle: Western no longer has advanced placement courses in those subjects. The reason: lack of funds.

"We have the highest number of city high school graduates who attend college," Brown said. In fact, Brown -- who may have understated things a bit when she described herself as "opinionated" -- said Western graduates more students than any other city high school, period. She could have used those advanced placement classes in biology and calculus. But not only are they gone, the German I and German II classes have gotten the ax. The school still has German III and German IV.

"But the girls enrolled in those classes will be the last to take them," Brown noted. "You can't take German III and German IV if you didn't have German I and II."

Alison Morrow, from whom you'll hear in the future when she becomes a famous theatrical stage manager and/or director, was the stage manager for Western's production of "High School Dropouts from Outer Space." She has several other credits as either stage manager, sound technician and props and set designer for other local productions. But Western's stage, sound and lighting systems are so old that there are some plays the school can't put on, Morrow said. The wiring backstage is more than 30 years old. Rewiring is needed, but it won't happen soon.

"It's very disheartening," Western Principal Landa McLaurin said of the disparity in funding. "Our academic excellence speaks for itself. [But] we want to do more."

What's keeping Western from doing more is a lack of money. Computers are old. Supplies and chemicals for science classes need to be replenished. Teachers have to buy their own air conditioners for classrooms. Barbara Golaski, who heads Western's guidance department, said the school's academic excellence might at times work against it.

"The perception here is that this school needs nothing," Golaski said, "that we have everything we desire."

Western's Tiffany Womble plans to be a veterinarian and wanted to take advanced placement biology.

"Why didn't we get it?" Womble asked, referring to more money in Western's budget. When told of the school board's justification, her eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"It's something shady behind that," she said. "It just doesn't add up."

What does add up are the taxes paid by parents of students at Poly and Western, which are no less than those paid by parents of City students. Those protesting that $3 million boondoggle City College gets deserve a better explanation than that the castle on the hill's floors are dirty.

Pub Date: 4/02/99

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