Schools Send Wish Lists to Assembly
By Beth Berselli
Local school board officials have drawn up their legislative requests for the 1999 Maryland General Assembly session that convenes in 10 days. Charles County officials want to do away with staggered school board terms, while Calvert County officials are asking for additional state money for student transportation.
Every winter the Charles and Calvert school boards meet with their delegates and senators to press their legislative interests, specifying which bills they would like or would not like to see enacted in the General Assembly.
The school board in St. Mary's County doesn't formally submit proposals to the county's delegation to the General Assembly, but instead weighs in as issues arise during the session.
As is usual, the Charles and Calvert school boards share many of the same priorities for the session that begins on Jan. 13. They both support increased spending on school construction and would strongly oppose curriculum mandates by the legislature. In the past the General Assembly has taken up legislation to require that a specific subject such as the environment or AIDS be taught in Maryland classrooms. The boards maintain that curriculum decisions should be left up to professional educators, not politicians.
Equally offensive to Charles and Calvert school officials are educational requirements imposed but not paid for by the state. A recent example of such a so-called unfunded mandate was the 75-hour community service requirement for all Maryland high school students. Local educators complained that the state did not provide funding to implement the new program.
The two boards differ on some legislative issues. Charles officials, for example, are seeking to end staggered terms of office for board members. Calvert board members, who also are elected in staggered terms, have no desire to do that.
Charles changed to staggered terms, with about half the board up for election every two years, in 1989. Current members say the process has proved to be too disruptive, with board veterans having to wait for the newcomers to learn the system. They are proposing that school board elections coincide with the state's gubernatorial election, a change they said would provide for greater stability and teamwork.
"It's counterproductive for the students," said Collins A. Bailey, a Charles board member who was reelected in November. Two newcomers, Margaret Young and Donald Wade, also were elected to the board this year.
As for Calvert officials, they would like to see increased state funding for student transportation.
"This is one area where Calvert County could really get a boost if the state would try to help counties that are growing," said James R. Hook, superintendent of Calvert schools. Hook said state funding still is based on student population counts of 1982, and the outdated data has hurt fast-growing Calvert more than any other Maryland county.
Calvert now picks up 70 percent of transportation costs with local dollars, compared with 7 percent in 1981, Hook said. He also pointed out that St. Mary's County with slightly fewer students receives $1 million more in state transportation money.
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