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School board frowns on requests for bicycles, laptop computers


A Howard County school board combing through Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's proposed operating budget for the next school year found at least one program to trim: bike safety.

Physical education supervisors had asked for $3,900 to buy 30 new bicycles to rotate among elementary schools to teach bike safety, but board members appeared to have already made up their minds. They don't vote on the budget until next Tuesday.

"That's all very nice if we had everything else we needed, but we don't," member Deborah Kendig said.

She likened bike safety to a drivers education program, which had also been cut more than five years ago. "School cannot be all things to all people at all time," she added.

The new bikes would have enabled school officials to increase bike safety training programs for elementary school students, who are riding bikes at a younger age and venturing out on roads more often, according to Jackie French, physical education supervisor.

Helmet use is a problem, she added: "Students don't know how to use it. Parents don't know how to use it."

But board members didn't change their minds. "I hope you can become creative . . . if we can't fund the bikes," Vice Chairwoman Susan Cook said. "I certainly don't want the program stopped. Please come up with some creative arrangements."

During a public work session last night that lasted more than three hours, board members flipped from page to page of the inch-thick budget proposal, scrutinizing such topics as funding for visual arts programs, gifted-and-talented student-teacher ratios and money for interscholastic sports.

They also discussed special education, computer purchases and teacher staffing for students with limited English proficiency. They looked to see if they could decrease funding for lower priority areas such as commencement exercises. "Is it cheaper to have commencement at Merriweather [Post Pavilion] or at their own high schools?" Ms. French asked.

"The latter," Dr. Jett replied, although Merriweather provides more seats. Ms. French opposed funding laptop computers for school psychologists who go to different schools and often don't have space at the schools to work. "Laptop computers are nice and everybody wants to have them, but I'm sorry," she said. "To me, that's just like bicycles."

While board members tried to find areas to cut, they also looked for more money to infuse in certain programs. Ms. French, for example, asked about funding for sportsmanship education. There have been about 10 publicized fights among coaches, players and parents at high school basketball games and wrestling matches in the past two months.

"I'd like to be reassured that we are stressing with our athletic directors and coaches that sportsmanship [is important]," she said.

Donald Disney, in charge of high school sports, said there was no funding earmarked for such programs.

"We do have 3,000 athletic events . . . and there are going to be situations that occur that we can take as a teachable moment and reflect on it," he said.

Last night's work session was the second of three that board members will hold before voting on Superintendent Hickey's $213.6 million proposal to run the school system next fiscal year. The board's last work session before members vote next week is scheduled for tomorrow night at the Department of Education.

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