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June 12, 2003

Think Outside The Box At This Forum

Alan Imhoff

What do you want for public education? On Monday June 16th at Frederick Community College in the Conference Center Room E-126 State Delegate Richard Weldon (R., 3B) and County Commissioner Jan Gardner (D.) will moderate a Community Forum on Public Education.

Rest assured the PTA's will be there to advocate their stated position in support of our children. Hopefully there will be all of our elected officials who directly can influence all the funding for our public schools and I am sure every member of the elected Board of Education will want to attend.

Where does that leave you? Will you want to have your say on what concerns you most about our children's education, or will you let others say it for you?

What will everyone talk about? Will it be what we just heard during the budget hearings, more money? Will people talk about the programs being cut or scaled back? Will people bring their pet projects to talk others into supporting? Or will some individuals really begin to talk about new ideas, concerns for where our money is really going, or looking at old ideas that might prove their worth this time around?

According to the Approved Budget for General Fund Appropriations to the Board of Education for Fiscal Year 2004, remember that starts this July 1, $156,101,584 will be moved from Winchester Hall across the street to the Board of Education. On top of that is the state required Maintenance of Effort money, amounting to $2,800,000. Finally there are other one-time cash transfers for special items and in-kind services the county picks up for a grand total of $168,752,875.

If memory serves me correctly, the Board of Education is projecting approximately 674 new students for the coming September added to 37,237 from last September. For these 37,911 students, the county will spend $4,451.29 each. An almost equal amount will be spent from state and federal money. So how are we doing? Maybe that should be one of the questions posed to Delegate Weldon and Commissioner Gardner.

With the recent newspaper articles about changing starting times for certain schools to save $650,000 on buses and drivers, could not that same logic be applied to an idea promoted years ago to add a fifth period to the end of the high school day. That idea may save the county time as to when the East County High School really needs to be built, at an estimated capital budget of $55,218,000. So maybe another question that might be asked of Commissioner Gardner and Delegate Weldon is: Could they urge the Board of Education to explore that option?

Another question that could be posed is what really constitutes overcrowding? Everyone focuses on that magical State Rated Capacity figure, derived from the square footage of a building and the amount set aside for teaching stations. When what you and I see is the number of student in our children's classrooms, where the room might be at 136% of capacity for instruction at 34 students, 9 over the 25 student average, while the school building is only at 86% State Rated Capacity. Do not forget we were just warned by the system that class sizes would go up.

Getting back to school buses, have you ever asked yourself why the system seems to build many of its new school out of walking distance for students in the "growth" areas?

Perhaps another question you could pose to the two moderators is why aren't the school system and the planning staffs requiring schools to have a higher percentage of "walkers" when these buildings are being planned? Wouldn't it make sense in the largest land mass county in the state, with the greatest number of bus route miles already, to minimize the number of new route miles added or additional buses and drivers? Should not that be a goal?

When looking back to 1995, one of the old ideas not thought feasible in the Future Growth and School Scheduling Advisory Committee report was year-round-education. Well, maybe another question to ask of Mr. Weldon and Ms. Gardner is why aren't we looking at it again? It worked very well in the North Carolina county that is home to the city of Raleigh and it was and is growing similar to Frederick. They did individual schools and made them elective, not the whole system, could not we financially benefit as well as offering a segment of our population a similar alternative?

Finally, perhaps the biggest question that should be asked is, as taxpayers, can we afford to meet the Board of Education stated goal of 90% State Rated Capacity for all our schools? If we are struggling now with operational dollars in a system that was at 98% last September 30, what are the operational dollar projections for when we reach a system at 90%?



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