Howard Week

December 14, 2003

Four more schools appear in trouble, Sun analysis shows

A data analysis by The Sun shows that at least four schools in Howard County fit the same statistical criteria as 16 schools deemed by the school system to be struggling.

The schools - Wilde Lake and Hammond high schools, Murray Hill Middle and Deep Run Elementary - could, or some might say should, become the next wave added to the School Improvement Unit, an intensive acceleration program meant to bring low-performing Howard schools up to speed.

The availability of resources could keep them from inclusion, as well as the question of whether the 2003 indicators - low scores on Maryland School Assessment tests, high racial diversity, large percentages of poor children and lower numbers of teachers holding advanced certification - support SIU status.

Teen's stance against homophobia is honored

Stephanie Haaser, a 16-year-old junior at River Hill High School in Clarksville, stood on a cafeteria table last month and shouted "End homophobia now!" before bussing her friend Katherine Pecore, a 17-year-old senior.

The demonstration focused a media spotlight on the school and on intolerance toward gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender teen-agers. Haaser, a heterosexual, became an instant celebrity, appearing on talk shows and in hundreds of newspapers. Her photo was at one point the fifth-most popular picture e-mailed from the Yahoo news Web site. She received letters and calls from people as far away as New Zealand.

On Thursday, she was honored with a "Hope for the Future Award" in Washington during a ceremony held by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a 30-year-old outreach group promoting equality. She is also being named a student adviser to a scholarship program that PFLAG will unveil next month.

2 school officials accused of `unethical behavior'

Howard County schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke said Monday that he has hired an outside agency to investigate allegations that a deputy superintendent intervened to change the grade of a relative.

An unsigned letter accuses Assistant Superintendent Roger L. Plunkett and Deputy Superintendent Kimberly Statham of "unethical behavior" by using their positions to improperly alter the transcript of one of Statham's relatives, who is a student at Centennial High School. It also claims Statham's husband, Michael V. Statham, a former Prince George's County attorney, verbally intimidated school staff members.

The letter is said to have been written by a teacher and was sent to the school board, the governor, the county executive and multiple media outlets, including The Sun.

Statham has denied any wrongdoing and said an investigation will result in finding her innocent. Plunkett, too, said he welcomes an inquiry, which will "certainly clear my name."

Guzzone seeks revenue for school construction

Howard County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone pressed Robey administration budget officials Monday to spend a big chunk of cash from the county's income tax increase on school construction next year - raising the stakes for what is estimated to be a diminished pot of new revenue.

With county teachers expecting a 6 percent pay raise they negotiated two years ago - a $24 million expense - and revenue predicted to be as much as $20 million below original estimates, Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget director, told Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, that his request "will be a difficult balancing act in the spring."

But Guzzone said getting cash for school construction is "one of the reasons I finally agreed to last year's increase."

Owners apply to rezone Elkridge mobile home park

Residents of the Aladdin Village mobile home park in Elkridge have learned, to the chagrin of many, that the future of the approximately 40-acre property probably will not include mobile homes.

The Carlyle Group, which manages Aladdin Village and owns an equity interest in it, has applied for a zoning change to allow offices, retail space, restaurants and apartments.

As developable land in Howard becomes scarce - and therefore more valuable - a growing number of park owners are considering more lucrative uses for their properties.

Man, 45, gets lighter term for role in fatal crash

A panel of three Howard Circuit Court judges has decided to reduce the prison term of a 45-year-old Laurel man who ran a red light and plowed into a car, killing an Ellicott City computer consultant who had just gotten good news about his wife's long-awaited pregnancy.

But Judges Diane O. Leasure, Lenore R. Gelfman and Dennis M. Sweeney also ruled in a decision issued Wednesday that Robert D. Ice should serve a full five-year probationary term after his release - with the threat of additional prison time.

Schools chief outlines plans for budget cuts

Superintendent John R. O'Rourke told the Howard County Board of Education on Thursday night that money would have to be cut from multiple areas to meet County Executive James N. Robey's request that the school system return $3.1 million to make up for revenue shortfalls.

He said he will update the board monthly on the process, not only to keep members informed, but to make sure everyone is aware of the hardship the school system has been asked to endure.

Sandra H. French, who passed the chairmanship of the school board to Courtney Watson in the annual leadership vote last night, said members might consider putting up a thermometerlike gauge whose mercury would rise as money was sliced from the budget.

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