Schools miss his mastery of numbers

Kalin to return from retirement as consultant

Capital budget needed

Uncertainty abounds over enrollment projections

September 02, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Maurice F. Kalin, the man many parents once loved to hate, has agreed to help the Howard County school system develop the next school year's capital budget and analyze the latest set of enrollment predictions.

Kalin retired in June from his position as associate superintendent of planning and support services, saying he had had enough after 27 years in the district.

But last week, Deputy Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin asked Kalin to come back as a consultant and do what he did best - slog through the mucky swamp of numbers, agendas and emotions and emerge with useful facts.

"There are a lot of areas that we need to consult with him about, in order to complete the capital budget," Cousin said Friday. "There are things that need interpretation and analysis that only he has the knowledge of."

Reached at his home, Kalin said final arrangements had not been made with the school system about his assignment. He added that he had "mixed emotions" about being paid for the work, whatever it turns out to be.

"If it does become too time-consuming," Kalin said, then he would expect to be paid. Considering the subjects he is being asked to tackle, it likely will be time-consuming. Cousin said the consulting fee had not been determined.

The superintendent's proposed capital budget is scheduled to be released Sept. 21, Cousin said. Much of the capital budget is based on enrollment projections - which have been the subject of a whirlwind of confusion since Kalin retired.

Cousin stressed that Kalin is not being hired to "fix" the projections, which he said "don't need fixing."

"He represents a historical perspective that is obviously very helpful," Superintendent John R. O'Rourke said. "We'd be foolish not to make use of it."

Others aren't so sure that Kalin isn't being hired to clean up the messy state of enrollment projections.

"I think we spent a lot of money already to try to get these projections figured out and you'd think that would have been enough," said county Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican. "With that caveat, if it takes Dr. Kalin coming back to help us have the right numbers, I'd rather spend a little more money. This is too, too important."

Although he had several jobs since joining the school system in 1974, Kalin had become best known for redrawing district boundaries, sending neighborhoods of children to new or different schools and, in the process, making hundreds of families angry every year.

In recent years, another topic garnered Kalin even more criticism than redistricting - the school system's enrollment projections.

As school enrollments continued to grow, often much faster than officials could efficiently handle, many parents began to question why Kalin's office couldn't better predict how many children would be attending Howard schools in future years.

Before his retirement, Kalin acknowledged that the many-years-old prediction process he was using was flawed, or outdated at best.

But his admission of fallibility did little to quiet Kalin's critics, who blamed him alone for county elementary schools having populations as big as high schools, and for constant piecemeal redistricting to relieve such crowding.

So when school officials said an outside consultant was being hired to improve the system's method of predicting enrollment and Kalin announced in April his subsequent retirement, many parents and observers said privately that they were relieved.

But if the saying is true that the road is always rosier in the rearview mirror, Kalin is returning smelling like quite the rose.

"I think that he's been missed by many people," said Patrice Durham, the immediate past PTA president at Clarksville's Pointers Run Elementary School, which - at about 400 children over capacity - has been at the center of the projections controversy. "That may sound strange, considering the different ways people felt about him. I think he was the only constant figure as far as redistricting and enrollment we had. No matter what you say about him, I think that he can assist the [school] board with getting back on track."

Durham said the months since Kalin's retirement have been marked by confusion.

Pointers Run - with more than 1,100 children enrolled - is bigger than some Howard high schools and getting bigger. A citizens committee set up to help redraw boundary lines for county high schools next year has been begging for accurate enrollment numbers for months.

The challenge has been so overwhelming that David C. Drown, who left his position as supervisor of school transportation to take on redistricting and enrollment projections, has had to work 14-hour days and many weekends since Kalin left.

A $60,000 consultant's report released in June has been found flawed at every turn, even with constant tinkering by Drown.

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