Funding delay irks Centennial parents Planned addition deferred for year


Dorsey Hall parents say they're dismayed by the Howard County school board's refusal to include planning money for an addition to Centennial High School in next year's $41 million capital budget.

Kathleen Maizel, one of several dozen parents in the Dorsey Hall community who support the addition, said she was "extremely disappointed. I can't imagine what they [school board members] were thinking at the time."

She said County Council members and state Del. Virginia Thomas, a Columbia Democrat, have given preliminary support to the concept of adding to high schools instead of building a high school.

Ms. Maizel said that the county would save money by building the addition now, instead of waiting.

"I don't know why the board hesitated," she said. "I'm boggled by it."

Board members decided last week to defer the Centennial project for a year because they lacked details about a technology magnet program planned for the new western high school under construction near Clarkesville, a program with implications for Centennial.

School officials had intended to reserve space for the magnet program at the new school, and leave Dorsey Hall students at the expanded Centennial building, rather than redistrict them to the new school.

Board members instead have asked for more information about the technology program, deciding to use the more than $200,000 in planning money that would have gone to Centennial for a new northern elementary school. The new school is intended to alleviate crowding at St. John's Lane Elementary School.

The board's move leaves intact the decision to transfer Dorsey Hall students to the western high school in 1996. Dorsey Hall parents had presumed that their children would remain at Centennial if the $4.5 million Centennial addition were funded.

Dorsey Hall parent Bob Kaufman said he was discouraged by the board's vote to defer planning on the Centennial addition.

But "delaying by a year is not fatal," he said. "I think [school board members are] going about it in a rational way. I feel for them. Their job is tough."

School board chairman Dana Hanna said the decision was the only reasonable one, given the number of questions about the technology magnet programs.

"There were so many 'mays' and 'what ifs' that it would have been grossly irresponsible to take funds and fund an addition solely to support a possible program down the road, when we have real needs hitting real kids right now," he said, citing the crowding at St. John's Lane.

Mr. Hanna said he and board members wanted to allow school officials ample time to draft the technology magnet program, which the school board had approved as a concept.

"It's more complex than merely putting down on paper. Something that is interconnected as a technology education concept . . . is notsomething you throw together immediately," he said.

"Staff was asking us to approve a program that we did not have information on," said school board vice chairwoman Susan Cook. "They had given us a thumbnail sketch a couple of months ago. And, from what we heard, we liked it. However, we need specifics."

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey has said his staff should be able to present a "fairly well-fleshed out proposal" on the technology magnet program next spring. He has three committees working on it.

Parents in the Longfellow, Beaverbrook and Hobbit's Glen neighborhoods, meanwhile, have opposed the Centennial project. They argue that the addition is unnecessary if Wilde Lake High School were renovated to accommodate 1,400 students, as proposed by the school system.

The school, which can hold 910 students, will undergo more than $20 million in renovations, starting next year.

Students in the Longfellow, Beaverbrook and Hobbit's Glen neighborhoods were redistricted to Wilde Lake from Centennial.

"This is an issue of need at Wilde Lake," said William Tyson, a parent who had testified against the Centennial addition. "We want bodies. We want students to support the programs."

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