School merger plan opposed


Dozens of parents, angry at a proposal to merge Bates and Annapolis middle schools, have sent protest letters to the Anne Arundel County school board and are expected to attend tomorrow's board meeting in Annapolis.

The school board will meet at 9 a.m. to finish making $9 million in cuts to balance the budget by the end of the fiscal year Tuesday. At a meeting two weeks ago, the board found $5.8 million in cuts and board members Michael McNelly and Thomas Florestano asked the budget office to estimate how much could be saved by merging the two middle schools, which are below capacity.

The County Council gave the board $14 million more to spend this year, but school officials are $9 million short in accounts such as health and life insurance for employees, retirement benefits and salaries. Employees got an extra pay period in the calendar year.

"We can't keep cutting the night janitors, the garbage-pickup people," Florestano said. "If we do that, they will keep telling us that there is fat in our budget. We have to make some cuts that hurt. If we close Bates, the parents will turn to their councilman, Bill Mulford. And if we combine [the Center for Applied Technology North and Center for Applied Technology South] they will turn to [John] Klocko about that."

But Bates Principal Sarah McGowan said initial estimates show that savings could be as low as $87,000. Although the board could save $178,000 by combining the schools, it would cost $91,000 to bus Bates students from Chase Avenue to Annapolis Middle School on Forest Drive.

Greg Nourse, director of school financial services, said his staff will present final figures at tomorrow's meeting.

Florestano said the vacant wing at Annapolis Middle School could accommodate the Bates students. But McGowan countered there is not enough classroom space at Annapolis for her students.

McGowan and PTA President Kathryn Huston said they are also concerned that merging the two schools would destroy the Bates curriculum. Bates is the only middle school in which students are not "tracked" -- grouped by ability. McGowan chose not to use tracking.

Merging the schools would be "disastrous," she said.

Huston said she and Citizens Advisory Council President Steve Johnson are urging parents to come to the board meeting.

"We could lose our identity," Huston said.

Florestano blamed the school system's financial situation on a county tax cap that restricts revenue.

"They [County Council members] really believe that there is enormous fat in our budget," he said. "But for seven years, we have eaten it up and sucked it in, and now we have an $80 million maintenance backlog. I really think this is a case study in which the majority of citizens don't want to pay money for schools. When there is a tax cap, the first thing to go is the schools."

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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