Faced with one of the toughest questions they might face as school board members -- where would you cut the education budget? -- three candidates in this year's school board race came up with specific ideas.
Seven of the eight candidates fielded questions on budget cuts, sex education, public school bus transportation for private school students and pay-to-play fees for sports and extracurricular activitiesat a forum sponsored by the PTA Council of Howard County last week.
Richmond Laney did not appear and was represented by his wife, Susan, who read his answers to questions that had been submitted in advance. Council president and forum moderator Rosemary E.S. Mortimer explained that the council felt it would be unfair for a stand-in to answer questions from the floor.
The two candidates who win board seats in this year's election will take office in December, after the 1992-1993 budget has been adopted. But if the recession continues, budget cuts may be a fact of life for the school board for several years.
Candidate Delroy L. Cornick Sr. said he wasn't sure "after two rounds of reductions, whether we can reduce the budget further."
But if he had to make more cuts, he would look at new programs, duplication of services and what activities might be supported by community organizations that would provide money or volunteers.
Sandra H. French suggested delaying the opening of a 10th county high school, scheduled for September 1996, and turning the School of Technology into a comprehensive high school.
French's other specific ideas for budget cuts followed steps Superintendent Michael E. Hickey proposed in his $183.7 million budget request for 1992-1993: reducing the system's central administrative staff, moving sports events from evenings toafternoons and eliminating special classes for gifted and talented first-graders.
Susan Laney said her husband would reduce the budgetby eliminating the school board's legal services contract and "hire our own attorney."
Two of the candidates who declined to give specific answers, Debra Ann Slack-Katz and S. Melvina Brown, said they didn't feel they had adequate information on the impact of budget cuts to make a judgment.
W. Eugene Eckhart Jr. said he had no suggestions beyond the reductions Hickey proposed. Linda L. Johnston said she would look at areas that would affect students least.
Jerry D. Johnston said he had identified about 100 questionable items in the current fiscal year's budget.
"I don't want to get into specifics here," he said, but added that he, too, would question the expenditure for legal services.
The county's sex education curriculum won praisefrom six of the seven candidates.
Johnston, who until recently chaired a parent group formed 1 1/2 years ago to challenge the ninth-grade sex education course, said sex education should "encourage students to abstain from sexual activity before marriage, and I don't feel that the current curriculum accomplishes that."
Brown agreed that abstinence is important, but said, "Let's not fool ourselves." Children are going to experiment, which means they should have information.
Slack-Katz, a nursing shift director at Howard County General Hospital, brought a medical perspective.
"Anyone who doesn't realize the seriousness of this needs to come with me one day to the hospitaland watch a 14-year-old in labor," she said. "This (sex education) is something we cannot do without."
County law provides public bus transportation for private and parochial school buses. Asked whether they favor the law, only French and Brown said no.
"I would rathersee that money in the classrooms of public schools," Brown said.
French said she opposes Hickey's inclusion of transportation for two additional schools -- Chapelgate Academy and Glenelg Country School -- in the 1992-1993 budget.
Candidates supported pay-to-play fees for sports and extracurricular activities in a tight budget year, if scholarships are provided for students who cannot afford the fees. Linda Johnston, Slack-Katz, Cornick and Brown, called for the fees to beassessed on a sliding scale based on income.