Four of the five school board members say they feel threatened by the tactics of Black Student Achievement Program advocates.
Black community members came to last Tuesday's budget hearing to protest Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's proposal to eliminate one of three BSAP staff positions from the 1992-1993 operating budget.
Before the hearing, about 10 black parents and children picketed outside the Department of Education. Later, while advocates spoke, others displayed signs protesting cuts in the program, including a signthat read, "We are watching you."
Vice Chairman Dana F. Hanna said he saw the BSAP advocates' approach as clouding the real issues: how to address problems of racism in the county schools and whether theBSAP is effective in its mission of increasing black students' academic achievement and participation in school activities.
"Distilleddown to its essence, I'm supposed to seek the best education for allstudents, regardless of color. I will not allow myself to be bulliedinto something if I can't be persuaded it is in the best interest ofall students," said Hanna.
Hanna said he didn't hear BSAP advocates testifying that "this is the program that is working. I heard, if you cut any of this, you're a racist."
Board members Karen B. Campbell, Susan J. Cook and Ruth Y. Hutchinson said they, too, saw the tactics as an intended threat. Board Chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig said she thought the activities reflected "strongly felt and very well-organized opinions, but threatening, no."
Some black community members who spoke or picketed said the activities were intended only to make the board understand the depth of their concern, but others said they wanted board members to know that cutting the program will have consequences.
Mildred Boyd, chairwoman of the Howard County NAACP branch's education committee and a member of the program's advisory council, said the presentation was designed to show the black community's concern over how the systemwide purchasing freeze has hit the program and to lobby against the prospective staff cut.
"We didn't intend to intimidate. We wanted the board to be aware we're concerned," Boyd said. "We wanted them to look at what is a fair cut."
Bowyer G. Freeman, president of the county branch of the NAACP, said he wanted the board to know "we are watching them. If they're threatened by that, perhaps they need to examine why they're threatened."
Black community members will do whatever is necessary to keep the program from being cut, he said, "from the vote to whatever."
Those options could include legal action, said Kenneth M. Jennings Jr., who represented Alpha Phi Alpha, a black fraternity which has a partnership withOakland Mills High School. If the BSAP doesn't receive full financing, going to court "is a very real possibility," he said.
All five board members said they understood that black community members are frustrated and angered by the budget cuts.
The county school systemcannot solve problems of racism without the community's help and support, said board member Susan J. Cook.
"Fine, watch us. But do your homework and find out what we're doing and what the surrounding counties are doing," she said. "But don't threaten me. Sit down and workwith me with the facts."
Four board members said they would be willing to increase the superintendent's budget in the request they arescheduled to send County Executive Charles I. Ecker March 16. Cook said she would rather shift money between categories than add to the overall total.
The board will be going over budget items in public work sessions Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Each session begins at7:30 p.m.