School-crowding issue dominates public hearing

Board weighs 2003 capital budget plan

Howard County

October 10, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Howard County school officials need to be more proactive and more creative when dealing with the issue of school crowding, according to dozens of parents and community members who spoke out last night about the superintendent's proposed capital budget and longer-term capital improvement plan.

Superintendent John R. O'Rourke released his proposed capital spending plan for fiscal year 2003 last month. The $63.6 million plan - which includes a 117-seat addition to Clarksville Middle School and adds 50 seats to an addition planned for Rockburn Elementary - is $7 million more than last year's plan.

While almost all of the 15 projects listed in the plan are aimed at relieving crowding, speakers at last night's Board of Education hearing said much more needs to be done.

Mary Kay Sigaty, co-chair of the district's Boundary Lines Advisory Committee, said that more high school seats are desperately needed in the county's northeast.

"According to the current enrollment projections, the needed capacity at Howard and Long Reach high schools in 2005 will be 824 more seats," Sigaty said.

"Redistricting can realistically reduce the need at those schools by about 300 seats. Each of our students has the right to a seat in a school that isn't overcrowded within a reasonable distance from his or her home, and you have the responsibility to provide it," she said.

Columbia resident Tom Grobicki, also a member of the Boundary Lines Advisory Committee, suggested the board try harder to find land in the northeast to place a planned12th high school and reconsider removing the technology magnet program from Long Reach High School to free seats in that school for more neighborhood children.

He also suggested increasing the capacity of Howard High School to 1,600 students.

Howard High School PTA President Susan Harrison, however, said the school's PTA members are very much opposed to increasing the student population of the county's oldest high school.

One speaker, Frank Aquino of Ellicott City, suggested the board consider adding money to plan for a 13th high school, even though a location for a 12th has not been determined.

Parents from Pointers Run Elementary School - which, at nearly 400 students over capacity, is by far the county's most crowded - asked officials to consider including in the budget a two-classroom kindergarten addition for the school.

"I know that these are challenging budgetary times and that the county is faced with having to relieve other overcrowding situations, as well as renovate older schools," said Pointers Run PTA President Melanie Yaksich. "So it is not easy to stand before you and ask for something more."

But, Yaksich explained, "even with the redistricting of students to Clarksville Elementary School next year, our census shows that our kindergarten and preschool population will exceed the designated capacity for these areas for the next several years."

More than 30 parents and teachers from Cedar Lane School asked last night for improvements and upgrades to the physical plant as well as more money and support for the school's instructional assistants, who, they say, are overworked and underpaid.

In fact, many audience members last night chose to address the system's operating budget - demanding more money for teachers, secretaries, instructional assistants and other support personnel.

"The duties performed by [many people at the high school and middle school level] are performed by one person at the elementary level," said Clarksville Elementary School teacher's secretary Nancy Holbrook, "and you're looking at her. It's me. The teacher's secretary."

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