Ruppersberger pushes magnet schools to serve BRAC

The Baltimore Sun

A congressman is pushing to build math-and-science magnet schools on or around Fort Meade to serve an expected influx of children from the national base realignment and expansion of the National Security Agency - the world's largest employer of mathematicians.

The school would raise future generations of scientists, engineers and other specialized workers to support a growing cadre of defense agencies coming to Maryland, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger told more than 100 commercial developers, lawyers and government officials in Linthicum yesterday. He was the keynote speaker at a symposium discussing base realignment and its repercussions.

He said he is working with local and state leaders as well as defense contractors who might help finance the schools, which would serve all grades and represent the first public magnet schools in Anne Arundel County.

The congressman said that officers and private-sector contractors who have been assigned to Fort Meade have expressed apprehension about enrolling their children in the county public schools because of Meade High's uneven reputation.

"They want their kids to have quality education," he said.

Local, state and military leaders have pursued a magnet program at Meade High to boost the school's academic reputation and attract defense workers, mostly from Northern Virginia, who are considering whether to relocate with their jobs.

School board members recently signaled their support for magnet programs, which could come online as early as the 2008-09 academic year, but they are less certain about whether Meade High is the most appropriate location for a math-and-science wing that could harness the resources of NSA and other federal agencies.

"We are more than happy to talk with anyone" about establishing math-and-science programs in the county system, said Bob Mosier, a county schools spokesman. "Whether it's in Meade is a part of that conversation."

Ruppersberger, the 2nd District Democrat who represents Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground - the two Army installations that will see tens of thousands of new jobs over the next decade - stressed that his proposal was only conceptual. He declined to elaborate about which officials he has spoken with.

But he gave indications that defense contractors, especially those serving the National Security Agency at Fort Meade and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, are supportive of making a significant financial contribution to establish these programs.

"The private sector needs to step up, and they will step up," said Ruppersberger.

Anne Arundel County is facing a school maintenance backlog in excess of $1.5 billion over a decade, and officials for the school system say they are beginning to struggle to pay for existing needs, while preparing for new students.

Ruppersberger, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said that's where the private sector would step forward.

"Because of cost factors, it's not fair for Anne Arundel County to manage that burden," he said.

Last year, then-County Executive Janet S. Owens, said she had secured the commitment of defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. to shape the curriculum and provide mentoring and financial assistance for a math-and-science magnet program at Meade High.

The inspiration is a Science and Mathematics Academy at Aberdeen High, which was established in conjunction with Aberdeen Proving Ground in 2004. Through this program, which received $700,000 in federal funding in 2003, students work with top scientists and technicians in science, math and technology. It was believed to be the first program in the nation to tap into the expertise and equipment of a major military base.

"We are very interested in promoting the same sort of solution," said Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy, Fort Meade's commander. "The face of Anne Arundel County schools are defined by Meade High School, especially for the BRAC organizations."

Many parents in the 4,000-employee Defense Information Systems Agency, which is moving to Fort Meade under the base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC, send their children to nationally acclaimed schools in Northern Virginia and question whether Anne Arundel County measures up. Meade High, in particular, is trying to overcome academic and discipline problems, most recently a fight on Friday that ended with the arrests of 11 students.

McCreedy said his staff has spoken with Ruppersberger's aides on creating magnet programs at Meade High School, possibly in a wing of the existing building, which has a few hundred open seats. He said last year that the NSA and the Environmental Protection Agency, which has a regional office at the Army post, were discussing how they could participate.

"The power is there," McCreedy said yesterday. "If it's available for them, we can bring them into the schools."

Noting the staggering demand to replace thousands of white-collar workers in future decades at Fort Meade, Ruppersberger has expanded on the concept to include middle- and elementary-school programs.

Two county school board members were generally receptive to Ruppersberger's proposal.

"Certainly, with the population entering Fort Meade, the highly educated, high-end employees coming with BRAC, if they are going to come to Anne Arundel County, we have to give them a reason to buy homes there," said board Vice President Eugene Peterson.

But noting that Meade High already has the International Baccalaureate college preparatory program, board member Ned Carey said that a math-and-science magnet should go elsewhere, such as North County High.

"I think there's a need to balance the programs at the high schools," he said.

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