Having waged an uphill battle for two years in an effort to exempt the district from a state mandate to provide all-day kindergarten, Carroll County school board members aren't giving up the cause, despite the odds against them.
After learning that the district may lack sufficient support for legislation that would grant flexibility to local jurisdictions in meeting the state mandate, school board member C. Scott Stone asked his colleagues at a recent meeting whether they should eliminate the request from their legislative wish list.
The responses were swift: We can't give up.
"I do believe we're beating a dead horse ... but we need to stand with our opinion," said the board's vice president, Laura K. Rhodes.
Two others from the five-member panel - Thomas G. Hiltz and the board's newest member, Cynthia L. Foley - echoed the sentiment.
"My opinion doesn't change just because the governor doesn't agree. I don't think our opinion should change because we may not be successful," Hiltz said.
Del. Susan W. Krebs - who represents South Carroll and was one of the sponsors of a bill that sought local control on the all-day kindergarten issue during the last General Assembly session - said she believes Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. would support such a bill, if only the legislature would pass one.
At a recent meeting, Krebs discussed the full-day kindergarten issue with Ehrlich administration officials. Stone was referring to this meeting when he broached the topic at Wednesday's school board meeting, indicating that prospects seemed dim for a bill that would give local boards control over the issue.
Krebs said she left the meeting convinced that Ehrlich supports the county's position. But, she said, it is the legislature that must pass the bill, and it has been unwilling to do so because of state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick's unwavering opposition.
"The governor does stand behind Thornton, meaning funding of Thornton," Krebs said, referring to the $1.3 billion Thornton Commission education reforms. "But I'm confident the governor would support a bill for flexibility if we could get a bill passed. We haven't been able to get a bill passed because Dr. Grasmick will not support the flexibility."
Carroll school officials have been fighting the Thornton Commission's kindergarten requirement for nearly two years. The State Department of Education has ordered that all public school systems provide all-day kindergarten by 2007. In Carroll, that policy is expected to cost about $18 million.
Local school officials maintain that most of the school system's kindergartners succeed in half-day programs and that pre-kindergarten testing would help ensure that youngsters who need extra instruction to get them ready for first grade would be enrolled in full-day classes. They say they can prove, with test results, that Carroll's program works.
"Back when [all-day kindergarten] was thrown in as a mandate ... we raised the concern," said Krebs, a former president of the Carroll school board. "Grasmick told local boards, 'Don't worry about it, we'll tweak the bill later.' ... Now that we go to tweak it later, she's been our biggest obstacle.
"I think she's well-intentioned, but she can't seem to understand it's hurting our school system and our students."
The legislation introduced last year proposed allowing local school districts to determine which students need all-day kindergarten to prepare them for first grade and offer it to them only. A House Ways and Means committee killed the bill.
"The bill has always been about local jurisdictions having flexibility," Krebs said. "It's never been a discussion about whether all-day kindergarten is good or bad. ... There are benefits to many programs we have out there, and resources ought to be available for those who want all-day kindergarten. But local boards should decide how to spend that money," not the state.
Stone said he supports the board's position to reintroduce the legislation, but he finds little reason to be optimistic about the board's prospects.
"The likelihood of changing the mandate for the full-day kindergarten requirement diminishes with each passing year," he said.