Cost of French educational program is reduced School board to decide future of experiment in tonight's budget vote


The controversial French immersion program at Crofton Woods Elementary School just got cheaper.

County school officials say the cumulative cost for six years, which would pay for kindergarten through fifth grades, would be $211,279. Earlier estimates pegged the total at $329,325.

The school board will decide the fate of the program tonight when it votes on Superintendent Carol S. Parham's proposed operating budget of $427.5 million.

In the first year of the pilot language program, 30 children in kindergarten are learning the regular school curriculum in French. Crofton Woods parents raised $10,000, and school board member Michael Pace contributed $10,000 to pay for materials and a teacher's assistant.

Officials want to expand the program by adding a grade each year. School officials are propos- ing to spend $30,223 for kindergarten and first grade starting this fall, down $13,000 from previous estimates.

The point, said Audrey Spolarich, whose daughter Veronica is in the program, should not be lost in the money issue.

"It's a question of whether the school system's going to move forward," she said.

But opponents argue that the money could be better used for other programs that benefit more children.

Board members were divided on the program, with a few undecided.

The board also is debating whether to spend $400,000 to start an alternative high school for disruptive students next February. While most members say they want it, several said they would prefer to hold off until September 1997 -- which would push the plan into the next budget year.

Several board members want to add to the superintendent's proposal, which is 2.4 percent more than this year's budget.

County budget officials have praised Dr. Parham's fiscal blueprint, but it is $3.5 million more than County Executive John G. Gary's target figure.

Board members are considering a 2 percent cost-of-living pay raise for employees, placing a guidance counselor and reading specialist in each of the county's 76 elementary schools, and spending more on instructional materials.

Tonight's board meeting is scheduled for 7:30 at the Board of Education building on Riva Road in Annapolis.

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