Shrink class size, add counselors, parents say School board hears pleas at first hearing on budget


Parents asked for more elementary school guidance counselors and smaller classes last night at the first of two school board hearings on the superintendent's proposed $427.5 million budget.

"Keep the priorities in classroom instruction," said Lane Heath, a Deale Elementary School parent. Deale, at the southern end of the county, has a reading specialist one day a week, which Ms. Heath said is too infrequent for many children.

Mussie Schou, PTA president at Eastport Elementary School, asked that the student-teacher ratio be reduced to 25-to-1 in primary grades and that middle and high school classes have no more than 28 students.

The ratio is 25-to-1 now in the first, second and third grades, but 28-to-1 in higher elementary school grades, according to school system figures.

The average high school class has 23 students, according to the school system, but some parents say their children have classes with more than 30 students.

The request for more teachers and guidance counselors is a typical one, but this year it has taken on added importance. The county has fallen from sixth place to ninth in overall school performance as measured by statewide exams, and the state Department of Education is demanding an overhaul of Van Bokkelen Elementary School, which became the first suburban school in Maryland threatened with state takeover.

Teachers and parents say young students need close attention as they are learning to read because all other learning is dependent on reading.

County Superintendent Carol S. Parham will meet with Van Bokkelen parents at 6 p.m. Feb. 8 at the school.

Forty-five of the county's 76 elementary schools have full-time guidance counselors, and the rest have part-time counselors. The administration has proposed increasing the number of full-time counselors to 55.

For each school to have a full-time reading specialist, 20 additional reading teachers would have to be hired.

"I want to know what it would cost for a full-time guidance counselor in each of our elementary schools and a full-time reading resource teacher in each and every elementary school," board member Thomas Twombly said.

Education officials said last night that they did not know the answers.

The second budget hearing will be at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at North County High School.

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