Students and staff members at Howard High School are helping a local shelter while hoping to raise awareness - and money - to combat homelessness.
As part of the Change Matters campaign, students have set up a symbolic tent in front of the school and are wearing T-shirts and carrying signs with messages about homelessness. Members of the school community have chipped in coins as part of a fundraiser, teachers have devoted instruction time to the topic and a portion of school lunch profits have been donated.
The effort is a collaboration of the school and the Elkridge Horizon Council, an advisory group made up of people who live or work in the Elkridge area. The group advises the Horizon Foundation on community issues such as homelessness and poverty.
Che Brown, Walker Smith and Alison Spatz, Howard High students who are also members of the Elkridge Horizon Council, are leading an effort to purchase playground equipment for homeless children at Grassroots, an emergency shelter that provides 24-hour crisis intervention services, in Columbia.
The playground equipment costs $3,000, according to organizers. The students have raised $1,342. The school's Student Government Association originally agreed to match any funds raised at the school. But the SGA decided to donate $3,000.
"Homelessness is here in Howard County, even if we don't think about it a lot," said Spatz, 16, a junior from Columbia. "We want people to know that we care."
Brown said he became involved after noticing several homeless people on his way home from varsity football practice.
"People don't think that there are homeless people," he said. "We want to show people that there are homeless people in Howard County."
The Change Matters committee includes former Deep Run Elementary Principal Fran Donaldson; Adejire Bademosi, a Marriotts Ridge High School junior and a student member of the county school board; Wilde Lake High School senior Dylan Singleton; Howard High guidance counselor Sonya Sutter and seniors Lunden Hawkins and Amy Sichler and juniors Andrew Rotolo and Corinne Tomaszewski; and Grassroots board members Mimi O'Donnell and Steve Koren.
Gloomy budget outlook
Schools officials were given a gloomy financial outlook during a briefing last week from Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget director.
The school board should brace for a tough economic climate this year and a tougher one next year, Wacks said.
"Each week, the economy seems to be getting a little worse," he said during the board's meeting Tuesday.
The school system approved a $125 million capital budget in September that Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin called a shift from expansion to renovation. Cousin plans to unveil his operating budget proposal in January.
"We're hoping that things will improve, but we won't be planning for things to improve," he said. "We'll be planning in a pragmatic way."
The outlook for next year's budget will be bleaker, Wacks said, adding that he is concerned about the school system's energy costs and money that will be dedicated to salary negotiations.
"Any money that you can hold and address in next year's budget will benefit you," he said. "We're all in for a challenging year."
Cousin said that the school system had remained prudent in its spending.
He said his staff has taken a "hard look" at vacant central office jobs.
"We won't be filling those positions," he said. "Our main goal is to protect the classroom. We're going to do this with this budget and in future budgets."
"Hard times are here and they aren't getting any better," Cousin said.