THE LAST GASP of a plan that was drowning anyway was heard in Howard County this week. By admitting they had made a mistake in calculating the savings that could be rendered from a conversion to year-round schools, officials have all but called it quits on promoting the idea.
School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey labeled it "pretty much" a dead issue this week, after it was learned that the calculations were faulty. Dr. Hickey blames the mistake on timing, saying that the board's refusal to take up the issue of year-round schools until next April prompted officials to proceed with more expensive school construction projects.
In a report released two weeks ago, Board of Education officials claimed that year-round education could save the county $15.7 million over 20 years, mostly by eliminating the need to erect four new elementary schools. But officials say now that two of those schools will be built beginning next year, eating away the savings cited in the report. In fact, some question remains about how much the system would lose, not gain, by switching to year-round education.
A bigger mystery is why school officials initially failed to catch an error so blatant. We have long suspected that officials, who never truly supported the idea, nonetheless saw the farfetched proposal as a useful tool in their ongoing budget war with county government. By stirring public furor over year-round schools, officials seemed to reason that county officials could be persuaded to be more generous in their capital funding.
Because we and others, including Gov. Parris Glendening, never supported the idea of year-round education, perhaps we should be pleased with this latest turn of events. Nevertheless, school officials deserve a measure of stern criticism for creating this fiasco, intentionally or otherwise. Public confidence suffers when officials treat important issues so cavalierly.
We hope this problem can be put behind the school system in time for it to improve its image before budget deliberations begin in earnest. Recent weeks have seen school and county officials softening their approach to one another. We hope reasonable solutions will be the result -- a criterion that never encompassed the outrageous and, as it turns out, expensive year-round school idea.