Funding asked for building of schools

People at hearing seek also to save jobs of 16 pupil personnel workers

January 28, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Hundreds of parents, teachers and students from northern Anne Arundel County turned out for a public hearing last night to ask that the school board set aside money in next year's budget for several long-awaited school construction projects and a safety-net program for struggling students.

The board scheduled two hearings this week to tap into public sentiment before it makes a decision next month on the $703 million budget proposed by Superintendent Eric J. Smith.

The second is scheduled for 7 p.m. tomorrow at the board's Annapolis headquarters.

Several students and parents made emotional appeals at last night's session at North County High School, urging the board to save the jobs of 16 pupil personnel workers -- school staff whose jobs are part truant officer, part social worker -- that would be cut under Smith's budget.

The system has 32 pupil personnel workers, supporting more than 1,200 high school students identified as potential dropouts. They also are on call to elementary and middle schools in the areas they serve.

"She's my friend and my personal savior," said Mary Demski, a junior at Northeast High, of pupil personnel worker Sandy Seward.

Demski told the board that when she "fell in with the wrong crowd" and started cutting classes, Seward "got on my case."

The teen-ager said she probably would have dropped out of school without Seward's intervention.

"It really touched me that somebody cared about whether or not I went to school," she said, her voice breaking. "If you get rid of people like Ms. Seward, that's the greatest mistake I can think of."

Speakers also urged against cutbacks in a program that assigns veteran teachers as full-time mentors to first-year and second-year teachers. Smith's budget calls for the mentor positions to be reduced from 26 to 13.

Lindsay Klem, a first-grade teacher at Harman Elementary School, told the board that her mentor's assistance has been invaluable.

"When I was down, she helped me up," Klem said of mentor Gail Larkin. "No matter what, she is always there."

Nearly 100 people stood in solidarity as several speakers described the need for a new elementary school to replace aging Harman Elementary in Hanover, which was built in 1955.

Parent Allyson Smith said her daughter had respiratory problems because of moldy carpeting and other unhealthful conditions at the school.

The group also asked for the construction of a larger gymnasium at North County High School to meet the needs of a growing student population. North County's building originally housed a middle school.

Several people testified to the need to replace Pasadena Elementary, which they said is crowded and unsafe.

Smith's budget postpones funding for Harman and Pasadena elementaries and North County High's gym, among other projects.

Arundel High students are expected to attend tomorrow's hearing to ask the board to reinstate a project to air-condition their school -- the county's only high school that lacks it -- and for a replacement of its outdated science wing.

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