Schools risk takeover as Title 1 shrinks More than one could wind up on state's list; Learning problems loom; Some want local boards to pick up cost


More than one Anne Arundel County school could wind up on the state's list for potential takeover unless local officials can retain a federal program or find a way to make up for the lost money, educators warn.

At issue is the shrinking Title I program, which provides money for extra teachers, assistants and specialists as well as teacher training and materials in schools with the poorest students. In Anne Arundel, 11 elementary schools share $3.8 million in Title I funds.

But that figure could shrink by as much as $1 million next year, forcing school officials to eliminate some schools from the program, depending on how the federal budget shakes out. Two schools were cut from the program last summer after Congress trimmed the sum the county was getting by $700,000.

Gregory V. Nourse, chief financial officer for the school system, said he expects to have to cut three more schools from the program.

Often, the students in those schools are "the kinds of kids who do not have parents at home who read with them, go over their homework, help them," said Donald Smith, administrator of the Association of Educational Leaders, the principals union. "They are the ones that need that extra program."

He warned that devoting fewer resources to the neediest children is likely to result in learning problems for them and lower standardized test scores.

Two weeks ago, the state ordered an overhaul of Van Bokkelen Elementary School in Severn -- where nine in 10 students live in poverty -- because its low Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) scores dropped further. Because of its poverty rate, Van Bokkelen is not in danger of losing Title I standing. But other schools, which have fewer low-income students, may see their Title I money evaporate.

It would be difficult for those schools to overcome the loss of "these additional resources," said Starr Whiten, the county's Title I coordinator.

Rolling Knolls Elementary outside Annapolis is at risk of losing the money because it has fewer low-income children than all but two of the county's other Title I schools. With MSPAP making across-the-board assessments of schools, the importance of extra teachers to cut class size, teaching assistants to go over assignments and reading specialists is magnified, said Linda C. Unklesbee, principal of Rolling Knolls.

Mrs. Unklesbee said her latest review of first-graders' papers proved to her that the extra attention the children receive from Title I faculty pays off.

"They just did a beautiful job," she said Friday. "I just don't know that they would have done as well. We deal with some needy children in this area."

Whether Rolling Knolls retains its extra teachers and hands-on science program for the coming academic year probably will not be known until this school year is nearly over.

The $427.5 million budget proposed by Superintendent Carol S. Parham does not include a request for money to pay for as many as 50 Title I jobs that could be lost. School board members, saying the budget is tight, have said they want the federal government to continue to pay.

But congressional Republicans question the effectiveness of the program and claim that $489 million in Title I funds went in fiscal 1994 to wealthier counties where per-capita incomes ranged from $24,000 to $49,000 a year. Anne Arundel's average household income is just more than $50,000.

"Too many funds have flowed to wealthy communities and school systems that can afford to take care of themselves, draining what is available for the most needy," Rep. William Goodling, a Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, said in a statement.

John Kurpjuweit, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said parents and teachers could lobby local school boards to pick up the cost. "But if they lobby here, what are they going to lobby to do away with?" he asked.

Nancy Mann, director of instruction, said the school system tries to bring other programs to schools that either lose Title I money or just miss getting some. In the last two years, Hilltop and Marley elementaries lost their Title I dollars. Hilltop was selected for another, though smaller, grant and Marley was "adopted" by the Maryland Business Roundtable, Ms. Mann said.

"No, it's not the same," she said. "These schools, they lose so much in services."

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