FOUR YEARS AGO, Woodhome Elementary School was down to 210 children, and there was talk of closing the school on Moyer Avenue in Northeast Baltimore, a move that would have dealt a serious blow to a stable Baltimore neighborhood.
Wednesday, the governor, the mayor, the schools' chief executive, the school board chairman and a gaggle of Northeast politicians were there for the "dedication" of the new Woodhome Elementary/Middle School, opening that day with a capacity enrollment of 460.
"When parents take charge, change can occur," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, and that was what happened at Woodhome. Schmoke recalled that school bureaucrats at first rejected the parents who proposed adding a sixth, seventh and eighth grade. (Bureaucrats almost always reject grass-roots proposals. It's against their religion.)
The mayor said officials were swayed by three years of dogged work by the Woodhome parents, who knocked on North Avenue doors and made pests of themselves at City Hall. When the bureaucrats said the proposed school would be crowded, the parents showed them how the floor plan could be rearranged.
"Then they said the school wouldn't meet safety codes," said Nancy Syntax, mother of two of this year's 50 new sixth-graders. "We pointed out that if the school wouldn't meet safety codes with middle schoolers in it, it doesn't meet safety codes as an elementary school. Eventually, they saw the logic."
Yet safety is an issue at Woodhome, and there's a subtext here that speaks volumes about Baltimore in the 1990s.
Among the last of the Northeast elementary schools to add middle grades, Woodhome serves middle-income families who want to stay in the city and patronize its public schools, but who want nothing to do with the zoned middle and high schools, perceived as vast and dangerous wastelands.
Syntax, who has six children in city public schools, said not one Woodhome student in three years has traveled down the road to the local middle school. They go to private, parochial or special city schools instead, or their families move out of the city.
The city school board approved extended elementary schools a couple of years ago. At the latest of those schools Wednesday, prominent politicians celebrated with parents and educators. They were saving a neighborhood and a school, although no one said as much at the festive ribbon-cutting.
And no one asked aloud what message was being sent to the shunned schools.
Md. tuition increase among nation's biggest
The Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland was hardly trying to put one over the public when it set out to approve a round of stiff tuition increases late last month.
The proposed rates had been announced in the spring, although the regents again disguised part of the tuition increases by calling them mandatory "fees." Still, putting the vote off until October -- as the board decided last month -- will simply delay the inevitable.
But where does the state stand on tuition in relation to the rest of the nation?
According to the College Board, Maryland was 10th in the nation in public college tuition and fees during the academic year that ended this spring, behind Pennsylvania and Virginia and ahead of West Virginia and most of the Southern states. Average tuition and fees for four-year public college students in the Free State last year were $3,905.
Maryland's combined 7.55 percent increase in tuition and fees from 1995 to 1996, however, was one of the highest in the nation. The state continues a worrisome 15-year pattern of transferring costs from taxpayers to tuition payers.
Sticker shock at Towson University
Last year, Towson University (then Towson State University) was chosen a "best value" by U.S. News & World Report in the magazine's annual college sweepstakes. As a marketing ploy, the university started putting stickers on its stationery touting this accomplishment.
Now it's had to halt the practice and dump the stickers. Towson lost its ranking in the magazine's 1997 "Best Colleges" issue. Not to worry, said a spokesman. They were merely stickers -- and the university had to redo all of its stationery anyway, now that it's lost its "State."
Putting in the hours on the new school board
One of those who applied for -- but didn't win -- a seat on the new Baltimore Board of School Commissioners breathed a sigh of relief the other day. "It would have consumed my summer," she said.
Right she was. Chairman J. Tyson Tildon said board members are spending an average of about 35 hours a week on school business. (There's no pay.) Opening day of school Wednesday was no exception. On past opening days, board presidents put in brief appearances. Tildon spent the entire day touring schools with interim Chief Executive Officer Robert E. Schiller, while board members on their own visited three schools each.
Pub Date: 9/07/97