Next step for 'tech-mag' Howard County: Budget cuts mean school board has more time to consider program's direction.


ITS decision in April to expand the innovative technology magnet-school program to Oakland Mills High School in Columbia didn't come easily for the Howard County Board of Education. It was concerned that the popularity of the program has waned after only two years. Then there were the transportation costs -- $2,700 per pupil, a total of about $105,000 -- to bus fewer than 40 students to and from the school.

Any second-guessing of the expansion decision, however, was rendered moot May 26 when the County Council approved a smaller school-system budget than the $205 million the board had requested. To compensate for a $6 million shortfall in anticipated funds, the board made cuts that included the tech-mag expansion. Better that than charge students to participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities.

Not becoming a tech-mag school was a blow for Oakland Mills, which has fewer than 1,000 students and could have used the program to help increase enrollment. But not expanding right now is probably best. Instead of pushing forward at full steam, the board can take more time to consider where it wants the program to go.

Much of the initial popularity of the tech-mag program came from its being available only at Howard County's two newest high schools -- River Hill and Long Reach. Two years later those schools remain attractive, but their newness has worn off and fewer parents are using tech-mag to get their children into them.

The 787 students in the tech-mag program this school year will increase to 981 in the fall. But the number of freshmen will drop from 250 to 226. There was a waiting list of nearly 300 eighth-graders to get into the tech-mag program when it began. Now the school system worries whether it will get enough applicants in future years.

The tech-mag concept -- training students specifically for sophisticated technology-oriented careers -- is solid. But the number of students who want their course work tailored in that direction needs to be reassessed.

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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