The Howard County Board of Education is to vote tomorrow night on the superintendent's proposed $300 million capital budget, which will take the school system on a bricks-and-mortar spending spree through the year 2004. In one sense, the board will be voting on nothing less than the kind of school system Howard will have into the next century.
The proposal calls for the construction, renovation and replacement of 21 schools; magnet schools and other special programs. And it is likely to affect school boundary lines in years to come.
However, tomorrow's vote could also prove moot in short order. By the time the county executive and council have their crack at the budget, school officials will undoubtedly be shrinking their expansive dreams. For now, though, the capital budget vote promises to be illuminating in at least one respect. In the battle between the have and have-not schools, board members are being forced to find a compromise.
In one case, for example, the haves are those with the most to gain from a proposed addition to Centennial High, already considered the high school of choice among the educational elite. The Columbia community of Dorsey Hall, having successfully fought attempts to redistrict their neighborhood into Wilde Lake High earlier this year, views the proposed Centennial High expansion as its salvation.
Redistricting Dorsey Hall could have produced a better socio-economic balance at Wilde Lake, but board members were too intent on pandering to the objections of Dorsey parents. At a budget hearing last week, a Dorsey Hall parent praised the proposed addition to Centennial compared to the "dubious goal of population equity," a not-so-veiled reference to racial and economic balance. What seems dubious are comments that amount to race- and class-baiting.
Which brings us to the have-nots -- those older schools in need of the equipment, textbooks and technology that new and refurbished schools get automatically when they open. Equity is not easily won, but some steps can be taken with this capital budget; others must wait for decisions on the operating budget and redistricting early next year.
Equity can -- and should -- be achieved in increments. The board shouldn't waste this chance to begin heading in the right direction.