Glendale pre-kindergarten is restored, but its supporters still worry


By all accounts, Linda Otto should be a happy woman. But the Glen Burnie woman is anything but.

"I'm really praying, but I'm not going to hold my breath," Mrs. Otto said. "I just refuse to be knocked down again. There's only so much I can take."

Mrs. Otto and the parents of Glendale Elementary School finally got their way Monday night when the county Board of Education reversed an earlier decision and voted to save the pre-kindergarten program at their school.

But Mrs. Otto said she does not believe this is the end.

"I think they will find some excuse down the road to cut this program," she said. "I really think [Superintendent C. Berry] Carter had his mind made up to end this program. I just don't believe it's really going to happen."

An eleventh hour maneuver by one of the board's newest members, Joseph Foster, managed to save the Early Elementary Education Program at Glendale, a program that had all but been declared dead.

Mr. Foster proposed delaying the hiring of a deputy superintendent until Oct. 1, and using the money from the vacant position to continue funding the pre-kindergarten program.

The board's decision is contingent on support from County Executive Robert R. Neall, who has said he would ask the County Council to approve a reappropriation of any unanticipated funds the school system could find.

Board members say it is unlikely Mr. Neall would withhold his approval, especially in light of a County Council resolution passed unanimously Monday night asking all parties to get together to try and find a way to keep the program operating.

Glendale had been targeted because, of the 10 county schools offering pre-kindergarten classes, it enrolled the fewest disadvantaged children.

During most of Monday night's meeting, the program appeared doomed. The board had voted Aug. 5 to end the pre-kindergarten program at Glendale after the state cut $140,000 in funds for non-mandated programs last month, and County Executive Robert R. Neall refused to provide the school system with $25,000 to save the program.

"This is not something that any of us enjoy doing," Mr. Carter said of the proposal to cut Glendale. "This is only the first of a series of reductions in aid to education, aid to local government," he said.

"I'm very concerned about starting a trend of acting with our heart instead of our head," said board member Michael Pace. "It's kind of like spending money for an umbrella when there's a light drizzle out, when you ought to be saving to purchase sandbags because you know there's a hurricane coming."

Despite a suggestion from student board member Jay Witcher that maybe it was better to "act with our hearts instead of our heads," a motion to save the program died.

Parents left the meeting, some in tears.

But during a break Mr. Foster approached other board members about the possibility of saving the program by using money from the vacant deputy superintendent's position. Mr. Pace, Mr. Witcher, Maureen Carr-York and Thomas Twombly joined Mr. Foster in support of the idea.

Board President Vincent Leggett and Vice President Dorothy Chaney abstained from voting. Board member Jo Ann Tollenger said she voted against the motion because she believes the board will be facing additional cuts.

"This is still a non-mandated program," Ms. Tollenger said. "We have a responsibility to the kids who are told they have to go to school."

But Mrs. Otto said in her case, and in many others, pre-kindergarten students have to go to school.

As part of a custody decision, the county courts ordered Mrs. Otto to enroll her 3-year-old niece Cherie in pre-kindergarten classes. Without the classes, Mrs. Otto said, she would be in violation of the law and face imprisonment.

"Everywhere I turned, everyone I talked to, they kept telling me there are private pre-schools," Mrs. Otto said. "Well, I'm on disability. I can't afford a private pre-school.

"This whole thing has just crushed me," she said. "I'm upset. A lot of what I believed in is just gone. If they keep the program, I'll probably pass out from sheer delight. But I'm not holding my breath. We'll just have to wait and see how it goes."

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