Parents urge state to fund high school

Activists pen pleas to public works board for a 12th facility

Classroom space sought

Letter-writing effort aims to recoup money Maryland owes county

January 23, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

There won't be much room at the Maryland Board of Public Works hearing tomorrow when dozens of officials representing counties across the state gather in Annapolis to ask for more money for school construction. But Howard County parents and community members plan to make themselves heard nonetheless.

A group of about 65 parents began a letter-writing campaign last week to members of the Board of Public Works, asking for support for a 12th high school in the county.

The group hopes that the estimated hundreds of letters will make a statement in their absence about the county's desperate need for more classroom space.

"We don't want to use the word `pressure,' but we are raising awareness," said Courtney Watson, a member of Countywide Citizens for the Twelfth High School. "We want to encourage the governor to take a long, hard look at Howard County and our school construction needs."

Because of crowding in Howard schools, Superintendent John R. O'Rourke has requested a 12th high school in his proposed capital budget for 2002.

To help facilitate the school's construction, the residents group wants to recoup the money owed to the county for unpaid forward-funded projects. School district officials said Howard is owed about $8.1 million for completed projects that the state promised to reimburse, such as a 1988 renovation at Bushy Park Elementary School in Glenwood.

"We hope, obviously, if Howard County gets some of this money back, that we'll all be in better shape," group member Janet Gilbert of Woodstock said. She said her seventh-grade son will attend a severely crowded high school in two years but it's not too late to save younger children from that fate.

"It's important that we all continue this fight," Gilbert said. "I don't believe that this is a situation where, `If you build it, they will come.' They're already here."

The letter-writing campaign also is meant to be a show of support for County Executive James N. Robey, who has the task of doling out money for agencies' requested projects.

"We know that they do their best to get state money," said group member Terry Chaconas of Woodbine. "We believe that we should partner with our county executive. We're doing all we can to try to get this money sooner rather than later."

Gilbert said parents in the group - many of whom are used to lobbying board members and county councilmen on behalf of schools - know how intimidating it can be to continuously ask for more money.

"We understand that Howard County is owed money," Gilbert said. "And we understand that it is difficult to go before the state and ask for more money on top of that money. So we pledged that we would write to the governor and our state senators."

The group organized parents through elementary school PTSA organizations and requested that they send letters and e-mail.

In the first two days of the campaign, 48 letters had been sent from Ellicott City's Ilchester Elementary School alone.

"We don't have any way of knowing how many parents will participate," Gilbert said. "But maybe 300 or so."

Even if they don't reach that goal, group members hope state officials get the message.

"Letters do count," Gilbert said. "When they read them, they should be hearing individual voices saying, `I'm in support of this.'"

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