Parents voice ideas for schools at forums

Participants lament low turnout for events

December 07, 2003|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Dorothy Hines has three children in Havre de Grace-area public schools and she thinks it's time for parents to dig deeper into their pocketbooks to improve Harford County schools.

"It's time to think about raising taxes. If you want quality schools, you have to pay for it," said Hines, who moved here from California four years ago.

She said that each household in Palo Alto and Cupertino, Calif., paid a $100-a-year tax that went to improving schools. She suggested that a similar tax could be imposed here, with an adjustment for families on limited incomes.

"Good schools are critical to teaching our kids," she said. Hines thinks it also makes good business sense because a quality school district increases the values of homes in the district.

Hines was one of about two dozen parents who attended four regional town meetings held by the school system last week to foster community participation in the budget process for the next school year. She attended Thursday's session in the auditorium of Havre de Grace High School.

Parents were asked for their input into ways to improve student achievement, improve school buildings and make schools safer.

School officials got an earful.

Parents' suggestions ranged from instituting a financial incentive system to reward good teachers and attract others to increasing privacy in school bathroom stalls.

School officials also were advised to address crowding at some schools and to repair or regulate thermostats at Bel Air-area schools, where students in upstairs classrooms get overheated while students downstairs wear coats in class to keep warm.

Deb Merlock of the Harford County Council of PTAs said schools in Aberdeen and Edgewood have a large number of teachers with less than five years of experience in the classroom. She suggested that these teachers be given more mentor services than experienced teachers at other county schools.

Robin Seidel, who has three children in Deerfield Elementary School, wants an incentive system "to reward those teachers who go beyond what is expected of them."

She said she has seen other teachers "who could use a kick in the butt" to do a better job.

Fran Angert of Bel Air said that schools with 20 percent or 25 percent more students than they were designed to handle are not conducive to learning. She also wants bigger paychecks for teachers.

"You should look at increasing teachers' salaries. When is the last time they got a decent pay raise?" Angert asked.

She said she teaches in Baltimore and that if she taught in Harford County she would have to take a $10,000-a-year pay cut.

James Jewell, the school system's new budget director, asked parents at Edgewood High School for their thoughts on schools charging fees to players on sports teams to help offset transportation costs.

The question was not well received.

"Some students wouldn't be able to participate," said Marietta Brooks of Abingdon. "They wouldn't be able to afford it."

Brooks said there's a need for a daytime alternative educational program that would take disruptive children out of the regular classrooms.

"Teachers are spending too much time on discipline problems," she said.

Bill Chambers of Bel Air asked for a behavioral therapist at John Archer School for disabled students in Churchville. He said a therapist would help keep his 10-year-old son from pinching, slapping and kicking other students and teachers.

"I know this costs money, but John Archer should have a behavioral therapist," Chambers said.

Barbara Packard, who has children in Bel Air elementary and middle schools, is another supporter of higher taxes for better schools. She said school officials "should put pressure on the politicians to make them come up with the money."

"I go to the [County Council] meetings," said Laura Seed of Bel Air. "The [council members] say improvements in the schools are needed, but they just sit there, with the exception of Dion Guthrie," who tried to address the crowding issue.

Steve Phillips was at Wednesday's session at Fallston High School with his daughter Christine, a second-grader at North Bend Elementary School.

"It blows my mind," he said, to think that the county would open the Southampton Middle School district to more development when schools are already serving more students than they were designed to accommodate.

He said it also amazes him that more parents didn't attend the town meetings. There were eight parents in the auditorium surrounded by a sea of empty chairs.

"I don't understand it," Phillips said. "What can be more important than your child's education?"

Janyce Smalley of Havre de Grace asked about doors being installed in the school bathrooms.

"I was shocked to see the state of the restrooms in our schools," she said. "No doors, no soap, no paper towels."

She also called for improvements to school security. At a minimum, she said, visitors should have to stop at the office and let someone know they are in the building.

School board President Robert S. Magee told the small gathering of parents Thursday that their comments would be taken into consideration, along with those from the other parents. He said it is disappointing that so few parents participated in the process.

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