Schools make rating system for repairs public Parents' charges of bias prompt move


For years, parents at older schools in poorer areas hav complained that the Harford school system ignores their pleas for long-overdue repairs and renovations.

Now, stung by intense criticism, the school system has made public a 30-point rating system used to decide which schools are renovated when.

The rating system evaluates older schools, using a point system to measure the need for repairs of everything from plumbing to the school's parking lot. Necessary repairs to some major parts of a school, like the heating and cooling system, receive more points than others, such as windows or floor tiles.

The more points a school racks up, the quicker it should be renovated, Alden H. Halsey, deputy superintendent, said at the school board's meeting Monday night.

Ronald Eaton, a school board member, said he wants to see ratings on each school made public so schools most in need will get repairs and renovations quickly.

"I'm positively embarrassed not to have known the condition of Havre de Grace Elementary. Why is it that the Board of Education was never informed?" he said. "I can't tell you that, but I can tell you one thing: That is never going to happen again because we are going to have a rating done on every single school."

Mr. Eaton said he was outraged to learn that the school parking lot, which the school system has repaired at least once, floods every time it rains. The 42-year-old school's many other problems include an electrical system so old it can't handle air conditioners or even fans.

George Lisby, another board member, said the rating system would quantify what has always been a subjective process.

"These ratings have been used informally for a long time, but I wanted to bring them out into the sunlight so there is no doubt why some schools are renovated earlier than others," he said.

Mr. Lisby said he hoped making the ratings public would take the politics out of renovations. He said money for renovations should be awarded based on need, not the lobbying strength of a school.

"I'm looking at the basis of what schools have the greatest needs and not anything else," he said. "The point is that we have so many schools that have needs, they all can't be done in one year. I want to make sure the ones at the top of the list belong there."

Mr. Lisby said some parents had questioned why Youth's Benefit Elementary in Fallston would be renovated next year while other schools, which many parents consider in worse shape, were passed over.

Parents have become increasingly angry, often bitterly haranguing the school system at public meetings, over the needs of the county's older schools.

Richard W. Daub Jr., president of the PTA at Havre de Grace Elementary, was so upset that his school had been passed over for renovations, he asked the County Council to take control of the school system's spending.

The school system, bowing to pressure from the council and the well-organized parents at the Havre de Grace schools, has relented, agreeing to place Havre de Grace Elementary on its list for renovations in the fiscal year 1995, which begins July 1, 1994. The school system earlier said it couldn't renovate the school until at least 1996.

Birgit Retson, publicity coordinator for the parent-teacher organization at Roye-Williams Elementary in Aberdeen, credits "diplomatic persistance" for her school's winning about $1.3 million in renovation money.

Parents at the 40-year-old school, much of it never renovated or repaired, relied on letter-writing campaigns, tours and public presentations to pressure school board members and local politicians to provide money, Mrs. Retson said.

"You've got to develop relationships with the county executive, the County Council, the school system and the school board," she said, "and you've got to apply steady pressure to the council so that they will make the money available."

Renovations at the school are to start in fiscal 1994, which begins July 1.

Also at the meeting Monday, the school system released its list of capital improvements for fiscal 1995. The school board is expected to set priorities and vote on the list at its June meeting.

In addition to Havre de Grace Elementary, Hickory Elementary in Bel Air received money for renovations in the fiscal 1995 capital budget after heavy lobbying.

"We have heard such a lot about these schools from the public -- and we concur -- that we have made them a priority for next year," said Mr. Halsey, the deputy superintendent.

Norrisville Elementary is scheduled to get a four-classroom addition, which will allow the school system to renovate existing areas to create space for speech therapy, guidance, health services, a reading room, an art room, a music room, a computer lab, an office for physical education and storage areas. Parents and administrators at the school, which is in fairly good shape but needs modernization, also lobbied the school system.

Mr. Halsey said the school system hopes to renovate two other elementaries, Halls Cross Roads in Aberdeen and Churchville, in fiscal 1996.

The school system has also asked for money, as it has for more than 25 years, for a 65,000-square-foot administration building.

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