At the county school board hearing last night on budget issues, much of the discussion centered on equity.
Almost half of the 60 parents who testified urged the five-member board to remember aging schools when they vote on next year's proposed $40 million capital budget at the board's Oct. 14 meeting. Only $5 million of that money is proposed for renovating older schools.
"We know we should build new schools," said Terry Westerlund, a parent at Clarksville Elementary School. "But we also know an antique [if neglected] becomes junk."
Parents from Thunder Hill, Bollman Bridge, Bryant Woods, West Friendship and St. John's Lane elementary schools, and from Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills middle schools, complained about aging heating and air-conditioning systems, and overcrowding.
In addition to asking for physical improvements, parents also asked for new library books and textbooks and computers -- amenities the newer schools have.
"We are building a system with significant inequalities," said Gerard Kramer, chairman of the Howard County PTA Council's budget subcommittee.
"This is certainly not fair to the slighted students, their families, teachers or the county at large. All of our students and educators should expect to have reasonably equal access to current technology."
Not all parents came to ask for money. Carol Stephens, a Clarksville Elementary School parent, offered board members a short-term solution to the growing student population: Move small groups of students from overcrowded schools to those such as Clarksville that are under capacity.
Also last night, about a half-dozen students and parents asked the board to increase funding for the English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, program.
Oakland Mills High School student Hung Ton said the need is greatest at the middle-school level, where students get anywhere from one to four hours of intensive English studies a week -- not enough for them to learn the language, he said.
"We feel very lonely and sad," he said, describing his experience as a middle-school student who knew little English.
"I felt that I was left out," said Ko Itsin Tan, a Howard High School ESOL student. "I didn't understand what they were talking about."
Reaction to the plan to build wings onto existing high schools focused on Centennial High School, where the school system has proposed building a new wing in 1997. A contingent of parents from the Dorsey Hall community, which presumably would not be redistricted from Centennial to the new western high school in 1996 under the proposal, told board members they supported the new wing.
Parent Jo Lampe called adding wings a good way to add "cheap seats" and said the plan would enable the county to continue its feeder-school system.
"The feeder school system is something of value, something to strive for in Howard County," she said.
Parent Allistair Cooke, who had presented a detailed plan to build new wings at high schools at a previous school board meeting, also backed a new wing for Centennial. He said that additions cost less, give school officials flexibility and prevent them from being locked into building a "high-cost high school that may not be necessary," given fluctuating enrollment projections, he said.
But other parents called additions, specifically at Centennial, unnecessary.
Parent William J. Tyson, whose neighborhood is scheduled to be redistricted to Wilde Lake High School in 1994, called the proposal "irresponsible, both morally and fiscally."
He advocated redistricting even more students to Wilde Lake, which will have an increased capacity of 1,400 students -- up from 910 now -- when it is rebuilt in 1996.