School plans perplex panel, stir debate Capital budget vote due tomorrow


Howard County school board members spent much of last night's capital budget work session debating the future of two high schools for which major additions and renovations by 1997 have been proposed.

The two high schools -- Centennial in Ellicott City and Wilde Lake in Columbia -- have been the focus of controversy since the school board this past spring voted to redistrict four communities to relieve crowding at Centennial.

During the question-and-answer session, some of the five-member board seemed confused over the motive in proposing a $4.5 million addition to Centennial, which is now roughly 200 students over capacity. Some had thought the addition would provide space to alleviate overcrowding at Mount Hebron High School, but Associate Superintendent of Schools Maurice Kalin responded that the addition would allow a technology magnet program to be housed at the new western high school scheduled to open in 1996.

Dr. Kalin said that some 300 students from the Dorsey Hall community would stay at Centennial and not be redistricted to the western high school, thus the need for the addition to Centennial.

Some board members also wondered about the need for extra space at Wilde Lake, where a $20 million renovation has been proposed, if an addition to Centennial is built.

Dr. Kalin, who is in charge of redistricting and projecting student enrollment, responded that the increased space at Wilde Lake would allow flexibility in providing programs to help underachieving students there to succeed.

The school system has proposed increasing the capacity of Wilde Lake from 910 to 1,400 students in 1996.

Board members seemed to have their hands tied last night because they did not have final plans for the technology magnet programs, which dominated the discussion on whether to build an addition at Centennial. Board member Sandra French asked why the technology magnet program had to go to the new western high school instead of to Wilde Lake, in light of the proposal to expand Wile Lake's capacity.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey responded that the board previously approved the western high school as the site of the technology magnet program, though "it could go to Wilde Lake, particularly if capacity is going to be expanded to 1,400 students."

Last night's audience of more than 50 people was comprised mostly of parents from Dorsey Hall and from the Longfellow, Beaverbrook and Hobbits Glen neighborhoods. The two groups have been at odds, with the Dorsey Hall community supporting the addition that would presumably allow their children to stay at Centennial, and the other communities in opposition because they say the addition is unnecessary if capacity at Wilde Lake is to be increased.

The school board is scheduled to

vote tomorrow on the proposed capital budget then send it to the county executive and the County Council.

But after sitting through last night's meeting, the head of the county's Bond Affordability Commission said he will have a hard time recommending that the executive approve it.

"Because of the frustration and the confusion of the board members, I would be looking to get better information more quickly or get a better person to provide it," said Jack Hollerbach, head of the commission that reviews proposed construction projects.

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