One of the latest victims of the budget squeeze in Howard County is its vaunted gifted and talented program, which could see its purse cut by as much as 20 percent under School Superintendent Michael Hickey's spending plan.
The proposed $500,000 in cuts to the gifted and talented program's $2.58 million budget include eliminating a dozen tTC teaching positions and cutting funds for teacher training, textbooks, supplies and after-school art, music and dance programs. The cuts could go much deeper if lawmakers in Annapolis pass a bill that would let counties reduce their mandated spending on schools this year.
These trims, which are part of a broader assault on school funding to close Howard's expected fiscal 1992 budget shortfall, are intended to accomplish two goals: maintain current class sizes and honor the school board's contract to give teachers 6 percent pay raises.
Some parents and PTA officials, understandably, are alarmed. Howard's superior school system in general and its gifted and talented offerings in particular have lured many families to the county. Moreover, the orbit of GT programs reaches far beyond a tiny contingent of elite students. Fully 40 percent of the county's high school students and 28 percent of its middle-schoolers are enrolled in at least one gifted and talented course. In elementary schools, the figure is about 19 percent. These talent pools are intended not only to serve the needs of the truly gifted, but to teach children of varying abilities real thinking and problem-solving skills. More than a program, GT represents an approach to cultivating young minds that should be continuous.
It is time for Howard's school board to redefine its priorities. The proposed cuts in the county's gifted and talented program underscore the need to put educational goals in perspective. Honoring the teachers' contract is a laudable aim. But there are more compelling imperatives, such as keeping programs in place and teachers on the job. Both will be sorely compromised if the school board continues on its present course.