Parents want help for older schools Group will ask board for plan to update buildings

An informal group of parents from across the county is urging the Howard County school board to develop a comprehensive plan to renovate older schools.

About a dozen parents, representing several older schools, plan to make their plea at tonight's 7:30 p.m. board meeting, as members hear testimony on the $40 million capital budget proposal for next year and the $300 million capital budget proposal for the next 10 years.


Parents representing the older schools are among the more than 60 people who have signed up to testify at tonight's budget hearing.

Board members also will hear concerns about the operating budget, which is scheduled to be presented to them by Superintendent Michael E. Hickey on Jan. 13.


The school system's 10-year capital budget proposal is driven by growing enrollment and aging schools. About 13,000 more students are expected to attend county schools in the next decade, up from the current 33,000 students.

The proposal calls for 21 new projects, including three new high schools -- two of them scheduled to open in two years -- and four middle and seven elementary schools.

The proposal also budgets an average of $8.5 million a year for 10 years to renovate about 35 schools around the county.

Also included is a plan to build additions to four high schools: Centennial and Hammond in 1997, Mount Hebron in 2000 and Howard in 2001.

Parents from some older schools, including West Friendship, Thunder Hill and Clarksville elementary schools, want to make sure that they aren't overlooked in a capital improvement program that emphasises new construction.

Barbara Strong Goss, whose daughter attends Clarksville Elementary School, says the parents' group -- which has no name yet -- doesn't want to take money away from newer schools, but wants to make sure educational resources are distributed equitably.

Among the items lacking in older schools are up-to-date library books, and computers that can be linked into networks with one another, she said.

"Howard County is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, let alone the state," Ms. Strong Goss said. "There's just no reason in a county like ours that all of our kids can't go to state-of-the-art schools."


Parents at West Friendship, the county's oldest elementary school, are especially concerned about the need to upgrade the school.

"We're hit a little bit by a double-whammy because we're also overcrowded," said Holly Sunshine, West Friendship PTA president.

Ms. Sunshine said new schools are needed to relieve overcrowding, but added, "We feel it's also important to make sure the older schools in this changing technology don't fall too far behind."

She supports the capital budget proposals and plans to ask the school board for a new ventilation system for West Friendship, as well as more blacktop area for students.

Ms. Sunshine and other parents also are calling on school officials to increase the number of teachers available to meet unexpected enrollment growth.

And they want more money to be spent training teachers how to teach special education students, as the county moves toward including those students in regular classrooms.


School officials say they've already started a schedule of renovations, mostly to replace plumbing, electrical, heating and air-conditioning systems.

The board is expected to vote on the capital budget proposals Oct. 14, the same day county government officials bring up the issue of school construction at a separate meeting.

In other matters, the school board is expected to vote tonight on how to spend the extra $1.4 million that county government allotted to the school system last month.

The money stems from County Executive Charles I. Ecker's pledge to give the school system more money, as long as income tax revenue increased 10 percent this year.

In June, the school board approved a $203 million operating budget, which was $4.5 million short of what it had requested.

Among the school system's original spending proposals were $515,000 on textbook purchases, $200,000 on equipment replacement and purchases, $145,000 on teacher positions and $250,000 on building repairs.