Protest on delayed school projects set NORTH COUNTY --- Linthicum * Ferndale * Brooklyn Park * Pumphrey


North County parents will demand equal education for their children during two County Council budget hearings this week.

Community representatives of schools in Brooklyn Park and Linthicum say county officials have broken promises to renovate three schools, shift ninth-graders to high school and move sixth-graders to middle school by 1997.

The school system has nearly completed the first phase of the three-part construction project -- the reconstruction of the former Lindale Junior High to house North County High School this fall. But funding shortages will stall the next two phases of the project for at least two years.

While community members acknowledge that other areas of the county also have pressing school construction needs, they say they've waited long enough.

"This area has been ignored for years," said Donna Schramek, chairwoman of the Citizens Advisory Committees at North County High and Park Elementary. "There was a commitment made by the [school] board and the County Council to make this a priority. We're being betrayed, and the kids are stuck in the middle."

Parents want the council to make good on a promise and stay on track with the second phase, the $13.5 million reconstruction of the Andover High building, which will become Andover Middle, she said.

Until that building is ready, two middle schools must remain at the former Brooklyn Park High on Hammonds Lane. Ninth-graders will move to the new high school this fall, but even that will do little to alleviate crowding and the red tape of running two schools in one building, Ms. Schramek said.

Besides, she added, sixth-graders will be forced to remain in elementary schools, missing middle school programs available to sixth-graders in the rest of the county.

Members of the North County Parents Coalition and other groups are planning to attend 7:30 p.m. hearings tomorrow at Old Mill High School and Thursday at Annapolis High School on the education portion of County Executive Robert R. Neall's $668.6 million budget. It calls for no money this year for the Andover reconstruction.

The building now houses North County High School, whose students will move into their new building this fall.

The new middle school would open in September 1997 at the earliest, and that's only if the council approves the remaining $500,000 of planning money next year, said Ron Beckett, the school system's assistant superintendent for support services. The council approved $250,000 in planning money last year.

The third phase of the project, reconstruction of the former Brooklyn Park High School on Hammonds Lane into a middle school, would also be pushed back two to three years, Mr. Beckett said.

Parents complained that Mr. Neall bypassed school board priorities to fund lower priority projects.

State Del. Joan Cadden, a District 31 Democrat and former member of the Board of Education who represents North County, said county officials have overlooked North County schools for years. "We still don't have equity in education in North County," she said. She estimated it would take $500,000 in planning money and $7 million in construction money to keep plans on track.

School officials said an April 21 construction accident at the new North County High will not delay this September's opening, though the auditorium may not be ready on time. A boom on a crane crushed the auditorium's frame, Mr. Beckett said.

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