The cost of graffiti, vandalism and thefts to Howard County schools rose 20 percent last year, totaling more than $121,000 in stolen equipment and cleanup and repair expenses.
Although the number of incidents rose only slightly from 1993-1994 to 1994-1995, the damage done by vandals and thieves was more costly, according to a report presented to the Howard County school board last week.
"Even with the growing school system, we're pleased that the number of incidents isn't rising," said Ronald A. Miller, the school system's insurance and safety specialist, who prepared the report. "But obviously, we'd like to try to decrease the number."
The report of damage to the school system matches a pattern of increasing graffiti and vandalism throughout the county's parks, roads and recreational facilities.
For example, Columbia Association officials have been struggling to find ways to reduce the rising cost of graffiti and vandalism to their facilities, and police also have noted a rise in graffiti.
Among the 57 public schools open in the county last year, the only ones reporting no problems with vandalism, graffiti or thefts were Bushy Park, Clarksville, Guilford and Lisbon elementary schools, Patapsco Middle School and Cedar Lane School.
The school system reported 452 vandalism and 86 graffiti incidents, costing $61,641 to repair and $8,551 to clean up. Frequent acts of vandalism include broken windows and locks. The 56 reported thefts -- mostly of computers and electronic equipment -- totaled $50,868.
There was no geographic pattern to thefts, vandalism and graffiti, as schools throughout Columbia, Ellicott City, Elkridge and North Laurel reported some incidents, Mr. Miller said. However, the elementary and middle schools in western Howard tended to report few or no incidents.
All eight county high schools reported major expenses, from a low of $3,332 at Mount Hebron High School to a high of $15,608.14 at Hammond High School.
The middle school with the highest total cleanup and theft expenses was Hammond Middle, with $4,033, and the elementary school with the highest costs was Thunder Hill, with $7,901.
None of the schools with the highest theft, vandalism and graffiti expenses was at the top of the 1993-1994 list.
"Every year it's a different school," Mr. Miller said. "There doesn't seem to be a consistent pattern."
When a school reports a substantial increase in graffiti, thefts or vandalism, Mr. Miller said, he works with the school to help them improve its security.
For example, at Thunder Hill, the school has worked with neighbors and nearby businesses to increase awareness of crime after a spate of vandalism and thefts in the summer and fall of 1994, said Principal Thomas Bruner. One student completed an independent research project on how to improve security as part of the school's gifted-and-talented program.
"I think we've done a lot with the school and the community," Mr. Bruner said. "Knock on wood, since 1994 we haven't had any major problems at all."
Although the cost of criminal property damage increased in 1994-1995, the overall cost of property damage declined because the winter was less severe than the previous year. A cold snap in January 1994 cost the school system more than $200,000 -- mostly from burst pipes -- but last year's mild winter caused no such damage.
Cost of crime
Howard County's top 10 elementary schools for vandalism, theft and graffiti costs during the 1994-1995 school year:
Thunder Hill $7,901.11
Phelps Luck $4,452.66
Clemens Crossing $4,367.68
Laurel Woods $1,829.50
Centennial Lane $1,821.73
Dasher Green $1,546.34
Manor Woods $1,217.00