April 02, 2006

School starting time an unresolved issue

I am exhausted by the sheer lack of will on our Anne Arundel County school board to do something about school starting times.

I have raged. I have testified. I have sent e-mails. I have written letters to the newspaper. I have gone so far as to actually upset at least one of the members of the board on this issue when I suggested that they should feel shame in their "At-this-time-we-will-do-nothing" attitude.

We are clearly receiving the message that it is better to serve the few, rather than the many, and perhaps this is because serving the few is an easy decision. I think about this each time more money is given to the IB [International Baccalaureate] program. Don't get me wrong, I feel this is a necessary arm of our educational system, but I wonder how we can justify it given the start time issue.

Our children are being harmed over this starting time issue - 22,000 of them. I wonder how it is possible that the single most important point that appears to weigh heavily with the board is the bus issue and costs. This is unbelievable that there is a man who has a magic way of doing these calculations by hand and cannot get closer than millions for its actual cost, given this day and age with data analysis and computers that are designed to do this type of analysis and could give you down to the penny what we are looking at for every option. How can this be acceptable?

There is no business with a budget as large as our school system that would accept a report that can't give a better estimate than this; can't break down the options and give the exact cost per student. This would have been acceptable in the '60s, but we have turned the corner and we are now living in an age of data analysis. There has to be a program out there that other school systems use. Is there any research being done to find this?

Why do we feel that this is a majority issue? Why have polls been taken at newspapers and radio/TV stations? This is an issue for the future well-being of our children in order to improve their success in our public school system. It is not political! It is not a majority issue! It is not a "pat yourself on the back because everyone loves you" issue! It is a necessity for the sake of our kids.

There are enough medical documents and data on this to sink a ship. Doctors, police officers, parents, teachers and kids have testified and yet it continues to sit on the docket, simmering and I believe the hope is that the board feels the fire will eventually go out if they drag the issue on for a long enough time.

This is an issue that has been discussed for years. It isn't the only issue but it is a damned important one to the quality of education and the values that our kids are receiving from this school system. The evidence is in and yet the board continues to sit on it.

Funny, I think they all accept the evidence. I think they all agree that it would be a good thing to do. I think they all know that it is a problem. But clearly there is not the will to do what needs to be done. I have always believed that any organization is only as good as the people who are at the top making the decisions.

The top man left in the middle of the school year. If he couldn't tough it out and did not have the will to stay, then it does not surprise me to find that my son's teachers don't have the time or the will to be interested in his performance, to see that he is so bored that he has decided that he hates school. It outrages me - it depresses me - and in the end it finds me in a long line of parents trying to find the funds to send their kids privately to a more sane educational environment.

This issue is not going to go away. Although I can tell you that in our new county executive I will be looking for someone to change how our system works, because if such a simple thing as what time school starts is unable to be resolved, then I feel that there is no hope on the bigger issues of construction, teacher/staff development and salaries, gifted programs, special education, redistricting - to name a few. I know there are many other children who are not thriving and it is upsetting to see children who are bright not achieving to their potential because they can't get the sleep out of their eyes.

Catherine Thomas Severna Park

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