School paper chase stops at Anne Arundel copiers


LET ME GO on record as saying that there are too many pieces of paper in my life, in all our lives. Kids in school are endlessly bringing home papers for you to read and for you to sign. My kids lose most of those papers, and there are still too many of them in my life.

There are too many pieces of paper in my children's lives, too. They are forever having to color this one and show all their work on that one and fill in the blanks on another. My kids lose these papers, too, and still there are plenty of papers in their lives.

Having said that, let me also say that budget-crunching in Anne Arundel County schools has reached a truly petty level -- counting those pieces of paper.

The Board of Education has begun counting the "clicks" on school copy machines, and if a teacher goes over the limit, the machine shuts down. It won't so much as copy her letter of resignation.

Schools went over their $1.5 million copier budget last year and the board had to take money from other budget categories to pay $250,000 in overages.

But in Anne Arundel County -- a tax-cap haven for all the folks who don't give a damn about educating any kids but their own -- school budget-cutting gets closer to the bone every year. When they make plans to charge the kids for playing sports and charge community groups for heating the schools, you know there isn't any money for extra copies.

How were shut-down numbers set?

The board divided the number of copies its machines can produce under its lease agreement by the number of students enrolled in county schools. Schools get 2,000 copies per student, whether that kid is a half-day kindergartener or a student in an advanced placement math class where the "textbook" is custom-made -- and copied -- by the instructor.

Principals can allocate their copy quota any way they wish -- by teacher, by department. But each school gets the same per-student allotment, despite the fact that secondary schools appear to need many more copies per student than elementary schools.

"How do I allocate my copies?" one principal asks rhetorically. "I have no idea. I am guessing math and science need more. But we never kept track of these numbers before."

Two-thousand copies seems like a lot, doesn't it? But that covers everything from permission slips and homework to administrative copying and PTA newsletters.

"If I want to send a letter home with each of my 1,600 students, that's one student's total allocation for the year," Joyce Smith, principal of Annapolis Senior High School, told a Sun reporter.

"I'm not convinced this is completely bad news," said Ken Lawson, associate superintendent for student services. "We are asking teachers to make conscious decisions about what they are copying."

School is little more than a month along and teachers and administrators already are feeling the effects of this latest parsimony. Newsletters have been cut from once a month to once every six weeks. In one school, a newsletter will not go home to parents again until January.

Parents will be charged for copies of curriculum guides and course sequences at some schools; at others, students will be charged 10 cents for each extra copy of school work, even though those dimes will not buy the school a single copy more.

Health notices that warn of lice or flu or chicken pox will be posted in some schools, not sent home to parents.

A middle-school student who lost his schedule used to be given another copy and sent on his way. Now he must sit in the guidance office and recopy the lost schedule.

Children are asked to copy homework from the chalkboard and take tests from reusable master copies. The ubiquitous graphic organizers, which help children arrange their information before beginning to write, are gone in some classes.

Administrators are being urged to apply for grant money to help alleviate this shortage. Grant money for copies?

In short, teachers have one more damn thing to worry about and students are spending precious instructional time copying things that were once quickly handed to them. This is a false economy.

"Youngsters learn in a variety of ways," says Lawson. "The exercise of copying material off the board is not wasted instruction.

"And, as a parent, I never got through more than the first six or eight pages of a school newsletter."

Software has been installed on every copier in every school. The machines will shut off when a teacher or a department has used up the allotment of "clicks," so donating a ream of paper won't help.

Don't try to donate a copy machine, either, unless you plan to be there to pay for its maintenance. The school board won't fix machines it doesn't buy, and it takes a dim view of donated equipment because schools in affluent areas get an unfair advantage.

So what is the answer?

If you're a parent, contact your child's teacher, the PTA president, the booster club president, the head of the math department or the principal's secretary and offer to help by getting copies made elsewhere at your expense.

Or suggest to your employer that he adopt a school and do some of its copying.

The managers of Office Depot and Staples and Giant and Rite-Aid and other retail outlets where Anne Arundel County students spend millions on school supplies each year should have been on the phone yesterday offering to help.

Better yet, write a letter to County Executive John Gary -- with copies to everyone on the County Council -- demanding that money be made available so that teachers are free to make prudent decisions about what instructional material should be copied.

The copier crisis in Anne Arundel County schools is evidence of the absurd level of educational budget-cutting in that county and it is just the latest "click" in the heads of parents and voters who are keeping count.

I wonder when they will reach their limit?

Pub Date: 10/06/98

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