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Redistricting will be big issue in schools New superintendent to take over in June


While the Harford County school board is months away from choosing a successor to schools Superintendent Ray R. Keech, tTC who announced his retirement Thursday, whoever takes over in June will face a school system with more needs than money.

School officials expect the student population to continue to grow as Harford County grows, which could cause redistricting problems. More students also will mean more schools and more resources, including technology to help students prepare for the next century.

And all of this must be done while revenue is dwindling, several school board members said.

"There are a lot of challenges," said Anne H. Ober, the school board president. "Society is changing. Families are changing. The need for technology is changing and the school system is expected to respond."

Thomas D. Hess, another board member, said two key issues facing the new superintendent will be incorporating computers and technology into the curriculum, and addressing school redistricting.

With technology, students must be prepared for an ever-more sophisticated world, Mr. Hess said, but, "Technology, if not done well, can be a never-ending black hole which you pour money down."

He noted that it would be impossibly expensive for the schoosystem to try to have the latest computers and other technology in the schools because technology is improving so rapidly.

"It's an expensive issue," he said. "And we need to spend our dollars wisely."

Redistricting, he said, is a critical issue.

Some students at Abingdon Elementary School, for example, face being transferred next fall to less-crowded schools. The school is 200 students above capacity. So far, parents are grudgingly going along with redistricting that might move pupils to nearby elementary schools.

As the county experiences continued growth, the new superintendent, with the school board, will have to tackle the sensitive subject, he said.

"It's going to be an explosive issue in the county," said Mr. Hess.

Dr. Keech, the Harford superintendent since 1988, said Thursday he would step down from the $98,445-a-year job in June when his contract expires.

He drew praise for helping Harford secure nearly $50 million to build seven schools in his first seven years in office, at a time when revenues were down.

And during his tenure, Harford test scores improved to fourth in the state, at a time when Harford's per-pupil spending was one of the lowest in the state.

Such performance drew the praise of state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who said this month, "In Harford, expenditures are low, and they're getting a lot of bang for the buck."

Ms. Ober, while acknowledging the money crunch, said she hopes the county can continue to do a good job with limited funds. "These are very difficult times, but there's a lot of strength in the system," she said.

The 59-year-old school superintendent, who has worked in education for 38 years, said he wanted to slow down and spend more time with his grandchildren.

A native of Michigan, Dr. Keech earned a bachelor's degree in music from Western Michigan University in 1958. He earned master's and doctorate degrees in education from Michigan State University.

Dr. Keech was a classroom teacher and band leader for 10 years before becoming a school administrator.

He became a school superintendent in 1974 in Brighton, Mich., and later was superintendent in Bay City, Mich., before coming to Harford in July 1988.

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