Board weighs options for mandated classes

Panel offers choices in getting more pupils into gym, art electives

October 11, 2001|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

It won't be easy nor cheap to get all middle school pupils into physical education and fine arts courses by February, as ordered by the state, the Anne Arundel County school board was told yesterday by educators and parents.

To meet the state mandate, the school board is considering hiring up to 150 new teachers, overhauling pupil schedules or lengthening the school day. Then there's the estimated cost: from $350,000 to $3.7 million for the second semester of this school year.

Yesterday, the board heard five options for getting middle schoolers into gym and fine arts -- classes the board had considered electives until the state said otherwise last month. The action came on a lawsuit brought by parents who were upset that their children's electives time had been cut in the name of a new reading program.

But the options presented yesterday had one thing in common: They maintained the two reading periods per day that generated the controversy. Because Anne Arundel's middle schools run on six-period days, that leaves four slots for the other core courses and electives.

"The right way to solve this problem is to go to a seven-period day," said Severna Park parent Terra Ziporyn Snider, who is on the eight-member committee that presented the options to the board.

But Snider and another committee member, John Rugolo of Annapolis, issued a dissenting opinion -- showing that divisions remain on an issue that has split many parents and teachers in the county this year.

The school board took no action yesterday. Rather, it set a public hearing on the issue for 7 p.m. Nov. 1 at the board headquarters in Annapolis.

The board must decide a course of action at the Nov. 7 meeting, so school principals have time to reorganize schedules and plan for the changes.

About 30 percent of the county's 17,800 middle school pupils aren't taking gym, and 18 percent aren't taking fine arts. But other pupils would also see their schedules change to make room in gym and fine arts classes.

"I am thinking how difficult the implementation will be for our children and for our teachers," said board chairwoman Carlesa Finney, noting that some teachers will be asked to take on courses outside their fields of expertise.

But board member Vaughn Brown saw an opportunity in this scheduling nightmare. "You've given us a lot to wrestle with," he told the committee, "and we're going to have more discussion to figure out where to go next."

"We ought to be able to get to the point where we're not putting preadolescents out onto the streets and into empty homes in the middle of the afternoon, where we're able to add a period to the school day and provide enrichment opportunities for everybody," he said.

Brown seemed to be siding with the parents who favor a seven-period day, the projected cost of which is at least $5 million.

"We're talking a lot of money, folks," he said. "We're talking a lot of money that the county government doesn't have and an election year where I don't see any politician saying let's raise taxes."

The five options the committee offered:

Turn the weekly, 30-minute advisory period, usually reserved for counseling, into an "exploratory" period. Pupils who need gym and fine arts could take the courses in that time, while pupils who don't need those courses could take other electives. Cost: $350,000.

Each school, on its own, could reschedule pupils who need gym and fine arts into those classes. But because some of those classes are full, this could mean pupils taking gym and fine arts this semester would be bumped out in the second semester. Cost: $1.4 million, much of it to hire new gym teachers.

Middle schools have one period per day that alternates on an A-day/B-day schedule. For instance, many pupils take gym on A-day and an elective on B-day. This option recommends adding a C-day to that rotation, so children can fit in all the classes the state is now requiring. Cost: $808,000.

Make pupils who need gym and fine arts take those classes before or after the regular school day. This creates problems, however, with bus schedules and requires extra teachers. Cost: $695,000.

Put all middle schools on a seven-period day. This would require rescheduling for all pupils and the hiring of 150 teachers and administrators -- no easy task given the national teacher shortage. Cost: $3.7 million.

The panel recommended that the board allow each middle school to choose among the first three options, rather than forcing all schools into one of the five.

A separate committee is figuring out how to change pupils' schedules for next school year. They will make recommendations to the board next month.

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