School offered surprise funding

Ruppersberger plans $13 million for growth on Woodlawn campus

April 08, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

In a move that surprised educators and parents, County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger announced yesterday a plan to spend $13 million for an addition to Woodlawn High School, a cramped campus that has been the focus of lobbying by the African-American community.

Community pressure, a surplus of cash and staggering student numbers combined to prompt a windfall for the hilltop campus, which could get a new ninth-grade wing within two years pending approval by the County Council, which has yet to approve the 2000-2001 education budget.

"It is a good start and a start in the right direction," said Bobby Coleman, Woodlawn PTA treasurer, referring to the $13 million funding proposal, about $3 million of which could come from the state. "But we don't want the addition to be just hollow walls. There has to be some money for teachers and resources to deliver a quality education."

Woodlawn, a school that is 90 percent African-American, has been dealing with crowding for at least two years, according to school officials and parents of students who attend the school. The campus off Security Boulevard serves about 1,700 students -- almost 200 over capacity. By 2002, it is estimated that student enrollment will top 2,000.

"We have a lot of people moving into the county from the city," said Ruppersberger, who will present his budget to the County Council on Thursday. "When we see a school like this that has a large population increase, we know that we need to focus on those students and their education. We want the best for them."

Ruppersberger, who is widely considered a contender for the governor's seat, jumped on the Woodlawn expansion project recently in an attempt to help the community and spotlight his 2000-01 budget proposal, said County Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat.

"Overcrowding at Woodlawn is really a harbinger of the overcrowding that will happen at most of the county's high schools within the next couple of years," said Kamenetz, who has been meeting with Woodlawn PTA members recently to address the overcrowding. "Plus, the school itself needs some attention. This is a first step in that direction."

African-American parents noted the racial makeup of the community in arguing to school board and county officials the school has been left behind in terms of badly needed improvements.

Ruppersberger played down race yesterday. "I have made a decision that this is what we are going to do, and I want the rest of the county to know that," he said. "These needs are justified."

In making his announcement yesterday, Ruppersberger thanked several prominent black county politicians -- including state Sen. Delores G. Kelley and state delegates Emmett C. Burns Jr., Shirley Nathan-Pullium and Adrienne A.W. Jones -- for bringing conditions at the school to his attention.

Recently, several high schools, including Catonsville and Dulaney, have built classroom additions. But until Ruppersberger's announcement, no plans existed for an addition at Woodlawn.

School board members had little to do with the decision -- they got wind of it during budget hearings in January, said President Donald L. Arnold. "Things happen," he said. "We weren't really involved in this, but it's great someone's offering it. We won't turn it down."

A surplus of money in county coffers -- a projected $96 million for the current fiscal year -- probably softened Ruppersberger's decision to go ahead with the addition, Kamenetz said.

"Other communities have received substantial funds for high school improvements, including Towson and Catonsville," he said. "It's Woodlawn's turn."

Since December, Woodlawn parents and school supporters have been lobbying the Board of Education and school system administrators, including Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, for money to fix the school. After parents presented photos of broken toilets, rust-streaked showers and dirty floors to school board members, a crew of workers descended on the school.

But parents weren't finished. They marched their children in front of the school board at meetings to complain about a lack of computers, scientific equipment and library research materials.

As a result, the school system's southwest area office provided $3,500 for new books that could be used by students in Woodlawn's science and engineering magnet program. And 29 new computers were added recently, with more on the way. A new track, electrical wiring and doors will be installed this summer. New windows are in the works, but money for the project has come up short recently.

"It's imperative that Woodlawn be a premier high school in Baltimore County," said Ronald Boone, director of secondary schools in the southwest area. "If we create a constant, high level of student achievement at Woodlawn, then we can hopefully impact minority achievement in the entire county."

The Woodlawn PTA will hold a town hall meeting to discuss the proposed addition at 7 p.m. Monday at Woodlawn High School, 1801 Woodlawn Drive. Information: 410-298-3215.

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