School repairs urged 300 cite neglect of older buildings


Infuriated by what they call the Harford school system's neglect, some 300 parents, teachers and administrators demanded last week that Havre de Grace schools get long-overdue renovations and repairs.

Calling themselves HOPE, the Havre de Grace Area Organization of Parents for Education, members of the group took their case to school board members and administrators Monday night.

By contrast, a similar meeting last year, before the group formed, drew only about 25 parents.

"We felt we had to collaborate and be cooperative as one group, rather than separate PTAs, because our schools are smaller and our community is less affluent than some others in the county," said Pat White, a HOPE representative whose children attend Meadowvale Elementary and Havre de Grace Middle School.

"There is no doubt in my mind that children in Havre de Grace are being shortchanged in terms of facilities. The situation at Havre de Grace Elementary is unacceptable."

As the county struggles to keep pace with a booming student population, older schools like those in Havre de Grace have consistently been shortchanged, critics charged.

They pointed to examples:

The 40-year-old Havre de Grace Elementary building has never beenrenovated. The second-floor sizzles at the beginning and end of the school year, making children and teachers miserable. Hot, humid days render the computer lab inoperable because the equipment could be destroyed if operated under those conditions.

"Air-conditioners and ceiling fans donated to the school had to be raffled away because using them tripped the circuits in the school's antiquated electrical system," said Richard Daub II, the parent of a Havre de Grace Elementary student.

Mr. Daub, a member of HOPE, posted photographs of the school's parking lot -- flooded, as it often is after rain -- outside the meeting and gave copies to each school board member.

"About 75 percent of our children walk to school every day, and many of them have only one pair of shoes," he said. "Children who have wet, cold feet don't learn very well."

His presentation drew a standing ovation.

Most of the tables, chairs and desks at the school, along with most of the kitchen equipment and playground equipment, haven't been replaced since the school opened in 1950.

Other schools are also in disrepair.

PTA members at Meadowvale Elementary spent $4,000 to buy curtains for the school's stage in the gymnasium. But now they're afraid to put them up because the roof leaks so badly the curtains could be ruined in a heavy downpour, said Jim Walker, a PTA member and parent of a Meadowvale Elementary student.

HOPE, which has met four times in the last six months, includes members from the five schools in the Havre de Grace area: Darlington Elementary, Havre de Grace Elementary, Meadowvale Elementary, Havre de Grace Middle and Havre de Grace High.

Ray R. Keech, school superintendent, told the group that all county schools wanted more money. Havre de Grace schools are in some ways better off because they're smaller and have more teachers per student than almost any other schools in the county, he said.

But John Karas, a parent of children at Meadowvale and Havre de Grace Middle, responded: "We are asking you to staff us, and fund us, according to our needs and not our size." That school also needs a new roof, he said.

As did others in the audience, he demanded more staff and supplies, along with renovations and repairs.

Havre de Grace Middle School, with 520 students, has 19 basic classes, like math or social students, with more than 31 students. That's well over the school system's goal of about 25 students per class.

At Aberdeen Middle, which has 1,100 students, only three classes have more than 31 students, Mr. Karas said.

"Our schoolwide enrichment programs are suffering and we have so few teachers that it makes it impossible to team-teach," he said.

Mrs. White said Havre de Grace schools need more teachers because a disproportionately high number of students come from poor families or have learning or physical disabilities and, thus, require more of teachers' time.

The schools are so short-staffed that the faculty must concentrate on meeting the needs of students with the most problems, shortchanging the average and above-average students, Mrs. White said.

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