Council questions board on books Panel asked to reduce inequities in schools


The Howard County Council pressed the school board yesterday to reduce the large inequities between older and newer schools in their numbers of library books.

During a quarterly meeting between the council and school board, council members urged the board to go forward with tentative plans to put more money next year into those schools with fewer books -- saying that school libraries are one of their constituents' biggest concerns.

School libraries were one of several topics of yesterday's wide-ranging discussion, which lacked the acrimony characteristic of past meetings between the two elected bodies.

The council and school board also discussed the school system's recent top performance on Maryland's annual school report card and efforts by school officials and board members to adopt a new quality management philosophy.

In talking about the number of library books in Howard schools, council member Charles C. Feaga said he walked through the media center at Clarksville Elementary School recently and was surprised to see how sparse the shelves are compared to newer schools, such as nearby Manor Woods Elementary School.

Manor Woods, which opened in 1994, has almost 12,000 books -- about 7,400 more than in the library at the 32-year-old Clarksville.

"It is hard for me to understand why such a discrepancy exists between one school and the other," Feaga said. "Are there too many books in the new schools? Maybe we've been going too strong with the new schools?"

The average Howard elementary has about 9,900 books, the average Howard middle school about 9,800 books and the average Howard high school about 11,900 books, according to the school system's latest figures.

While those averages are among the highest in the state, they fall below what the State Department of Education set in 1986 as the minimum number of items for school libraries.

And many Howard schools -- particularly older ones such as Clarksville Elementary -- are significantly below the county averages, while newer schools have many more books than the average.

New schools typically open with the number of books recommended by state guidelines.

That prompted many parents to complain recently to members of the school board and council about the inequities.

Last month, school officials announced a plan for next year to boost spending to help schools with fewer library books by about $40,000 each year.

Board members tentatively have indicated they approve of the idea.

That would bring the total amount spent to reduce the inequities each year to about $205,000, said H. Thomas Walker, the county director of instructional materials. Every $10,000 to $12,000 buys 700 to 900 books.

At that level of funding, all schools with fewer library books than the current county average for their level would be able to expand their collections to reach that average in about four years, Walker said.

It would cost about $2.2 million to bring all county schools up to the state's minimum standards.

Council member Mary Lorsung praised the plan yesterday, saying that it was preferable to shifting funding from libraries at new schools to those of older schools.

"What we can and should do is strive to bring up the floor rather than lower the ceiling," Lorsung said.

Educators said the disparities likely will be reduced further because of a limit approved by the school board last week on the number of books that media specialists can weed from their libraries -- to no more than 5 percent of the libraries' total collections.

County educators have said that media specialists have varying opinions as to how old and worn books have to be before they get rid of them.

They said they fear that some media specialists at schools with smaller collections may be removing so many books each year that they end up getting rid of as many books as they purchase -- never allowing the size of their collections to grow.

Pub Date: 12/17/96

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