Elementary school west of Bel Air tops board's list of construction priorities


The area west of Bel Air soon will need a new elementary school, ahead of the Route 924 corridor that stretches south of the city, the school board decided last week.

But County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's administration is not convinced that a new school near Vale Road is needed before a new school in the Abingdon area.

Mrs. Rehrmann wants to see more numerical proof that the "West Bel Air" area school will be needed in the next three years, said the county executive's spokesman, George Harrison. "Our most critical [area] at this point is Abingdon."

The West Bel Air school is scheduled for planning money from the county in 1998, he said.

Harford needs to present a unified front -- from the school board to the executive administration to state delegates -- when it starts asking the state for school construction money in September. That is the deadline for applications for state planning approval and funding for construction projects with the Interagency Committee on School Construction.

The county's unified front and lobbying by the Harford delegation earlier this year earned the county full funding for the 600-student Forest Lakes area elementary school.

But that school, scheduled to open in 1997, will not hold all the children expected to come from developments on that side of town, said Deputy Superintendent Albert F. Seymour.

As many as 2,000 more students by the end of the century would overload the Forest Lakes, Bel Air, Forest Hill, Hickory, Homestead/Wakefield and Prospect Mill elementary schools, unless another school for the area of west of Bel Air is built, Mr. Seymour said at the school board meeting.

The next priority in the county's growth corridor would be another elementary in the Route 924 area, scheduled for planning in 1997.

The board settled on the West Bel Air school after nearly an hour of discussion. But member George D. Lisby wanted to delay planning any new school. "Let's delay for just one year to get a better handle on the number of students," he said.

School Superintendent Ray R. Keech and other board members insisted that they should request state planning approval for the new school this year.

The West Bel Air school tops the board's list of construction priorities through 2002.

The board also voted to freeze about $750,000 earmarked for computers and software purchases in the 1995-1996 operating budget. The money includes $400,000 that Mrs. Rehrmann and the county council added to the board's original computer request.

"No money allocated in the 1995-1996 budget may be expended on computer equipment until the plan is approved by the board," said board President Ronald R. Eaton. He wants to see a comprehensive plan for how computers will be used in schools.

A technology supervisor, Phyllis Van Winkle, is scheduled to begin working for the school system on July 1, according to school system spokesman Donald R. Morrison. She will plan new computer purchases and coordination.

Before approving the budget with that recommendation, the board discussed the lack of funding for equipment and teachers for two prekindergarten classrooms now under construction.

The County Council did not approve a large enough increase in the school-system budget to equip and staff the two rooms.

But the classes for 4-year-olds are valuable, Mr. Eaton said. Many of the 4,000 single parents with children age 6 and under in Harford must work to support their families and need the free early education that prekindergarten classes provide, he said.

"We need to be more aggressive in this arena next time around," he said.

The board did not vote to shift money away from classroom teachers or other areas to staff the prekindergarten rooms at Riverside and Joppatowne elementary schools. Dr. Keech has offered the rooms to Head Start, an independent, federally funded program for needy 3- and 4-year-olds and their families.

In other action, the board:

* Approved the promotion of Stephen R. Williams to principal of Havre de Grace Middle School. He had been assistant principal of Havre de Grace High School since July and before that served in the same position at Aberdeen High School for three years. He came to the county as a guidance counselor at Edgewood High School in 1973.

* Named Carol Ann Baglin as the new supervisor of special education. She leaves her position as director of the Maryland Infants/Toddlers Prevention and Early Intervention program in the Governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families.

* Unanimously approved a stricter attendance policy, limiting excused absences for family vacations to five days per school year, though several members said the policy encroached on parental rights. The new attendance policy also reduces the number of unexcused absences allowed before students lose credit for a course.

* Scheduled three early dismissals and three delayed openings at elementary schools to allow more teacher planning time. Elementary students will be dismissed at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 18 and Nov. 29 and Jan. 24, 1996. Elementary schools will open two hours late March 27, April 24 and June 5, 1996.

In amending the school-year calendar, the board also approved a shift in high school graduations to Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, May 28 through May 30, 1996, instead of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of that week. The traditional Friday graduations conflicted with the Jewish Sabbath, which begins Friday evening.

The school board will meet again Monday instead of the next week, to review the condition of school buildings and grounds.

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