No suggestion box graced the county school board meeting room, but Clifford J. Bobo offered a couple of suggestions anyway.

The Feb. 28 board hearing on school boundary lines was entering its third hour,so only die-hard redistricting junkies remained in the audience whenBobo stood up with some ideas on how the school system could cut costs in tough economic times.

He had been listening all night, the lanky Ilchester Road resident said, and he hadn't heard anything negative about portable classrooms.

But why does Howard County have to buy the Cadillac of portables? he asked.

"Frederick County buys cheaper portables and gets a better bargain," Bobo said.

He had another suggestion as to how the public schools could reduce expenses in tight economic times: Forget the Home From School newsletter that goes out to all county households.

"It's not worth reading; they just tell you how great we are," he said.

"Give us information we can use."

As it happens, Home From School will be cut from two to one issue next year, and it will be paid for from this year's money.

"We feel the community newsletter is essential. It's the only time we directly communicate with the public," said Patti P. Vierkant, public information officer for the school system.

The newsletter goes out to 73,000 Howard County households and costs about $13,000 a year to print.

Vierkant said budget cuts will leave no money for it next year, but school officialswill defer the spring issue this year in order to publish one issue next fall.

Bobo volunteered his suggestions, but the county schoolsystem is not asking its employees for cost-saving ideas.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said the suggestion program of several years ago was canceled because the ideas "often came in with a limited orself-serving perspective."

Many of the cost-cutting ideas were rejected because the savings were very small or the cost to recover thesavings was disproportionately high, the superintendent said.

Although the county school system is not looking for money-saving ideasfrom its employees, the teachers union is.

The Howard County Education Association asked the teachers, principals, supervisors, secretaries and instructional assistants who make up its membership to identify areas of the school budget that could be cut.

"We've gotten astack, and more are coming in all the time," union President James R. Swab said.

He said the union hopes the ideas, solicited in anticipation of additional budget cuts by County Executive Charles I. Ecker, won't be needed. But if the school system has to absorb further budget cuts, "Educators are the best source to identify items that can be temporarily cut," Swab said.


It's something I dread every morning while driving to work. As soon as I exit from Route 29 South to U.S. 40 East, pieces of loose gravel bombard my windshield and I hear a noise that sounds like tires being ripped to shreds.

These less-than-ideal driving conditions have been annoying me for the past few months, and things don't seem to be improving. I decided to find out why such a busy road is in such a mess.

Blame it on the weather was the answer I got from John Schene of the State Highway Administration.

It seems that a nasty spell of winter weather in early January -- snow, sleet and freezing rain -- dealt the final blow to the stretch of Route 40 from St. John's Lane to the Baltimore County line.

The heavy plowing, deicing chemicals and abrasives used to remove snow and ice apparently did such a good job that they removed the 8-year-old seal on the road's surface as well, according to Schene, who is assistant district engineer with the SHA for Howard, Frederick and Carroll counties.

State road crews have cleaned up what they can with "power sweepers" and have also patched some of the more deteriorated spots.

The SHA has placed the area on its priority repair list and the road should be as good as new by November, Schene said.

In the meantime the gravel still will be flying.

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