Board rejects school calendar

Too many half-days

sent back for revision

Transfer-tax plan embraced

Howard County

January 24, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Board of Education sent next year's proposed school calendar back to the committee for revision last night, and heartily embraced an ambitious transfer-tax plan that could raise millions for school construction - a welcome prospect considering the state is offering little in the way of capital funding.

Board members also heard a description of the changes about to take place in high school scheduling across the county and learned from a pest management report that nearly 3,000 stinging-insect nests (mostly yellow jackets and wasps) had been found and destroyed on county school grounds since late July.

The calendar under consideration for the 2003-2004 school year had too many half-days for the board's comfort. Between 12 and 20 of the 180 days of instruction time allotted were listed as half-days because of exam scheduling needs, parent-teacher conferences and teacher work time.

"None of us went into this process wanting to add half-days," said school calendar co-chairwoman Patti Caplan. "We went in with the intention to cut half -days."

Caplan said the committee found it an impossible task, though, and ended up increasing the number of early-dismissal days by two.

"I'm at a dilemma here," said Sandra H. French, the board chairman, noting that other counties had a maximum of eight such days compared with Howard's minimum of 12. "I find that very difficult to accept."

But the board plodded on, starting to vote on individual calendar motions and getting only as far as passing the first - which declares school will begin Aug. 25 - before member Courtney Watson moved to send the calendar back for modification, specifically cutting some of the short days.

The motion passed, and the calendar will again come up for approval or dismissal at the next board meeting Feb. 13.

Representatives from County Executive James N. Robey's office stood before the board and outlined a tax increase that could potentially earn $215 million in revenue over the next seven years, all of which would be used for school construction.

The plan would raise the transfer tax, paid when property is transferred from one person to another, from 1 percent to 1.5 percent, the difference of which would go entirely to the school system.

"It would generate an additional $10 million per year that could be leveraged" to reach the $215 million mark, said school system Director of Operations Raymond Brown.

More students

Brown said the school system has grown by nearly 14,000 students in the past decade, resulting in the county having to build 26 schools. Although construction is slowing, the rise in students probably will not.

About 57 percent of the new students in Howard County each year come not from new construction, but from the resale of existing homes, suggesting that growth will continue long after the county is built to capacity.

`Too good a job'

Robey's transfer tax would see that the buyers of old homes as well as new ones pay for the school system, which Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget director, said is just.

"In a way, you've done too good a job," he told the board. "The demand for housing in Howard County is there because of the school system."

Schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke foreshadowed what could happen if the money for new construction is not found, saying the school system would have to hold classes in corridors, cafeterias and on stages, which some schools are doing.

"It's not as if we're [balanced] right now with anticipation of great needs in the future," O'Rourke said. "We have great needs right now."

Scheduling changes

One need the school system is always trying to fulfill is one of equity across the county.

Because of that, the changes about to take place in high school schedules to make them conform to a more uniform, seven-credit, yearlong program thrilled board member Patricia S. Gordon.

"It addresses two of my very deep concerns," she said: that students can transfer from school to school without missing a beat, and that instruction time would be uniform across the county.

Some schools now have as many as 27 fewer hours of class time per school year than others.

Board member Virginia Charles worried that elective choices were diminished, though, and several others voiced concerns that advanced placement classes would suffer because less time is allotted to those courses than to the required classes.

It is an issue that board student member Jessica Bagley said is "enough of a problem right now."

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