Prince George's County school officials are clearing their academic machinery of cobwebs left over from the three-month summer break and now plan to greet students and parents with a few changes in curriculum focusing primarily on basic reading and math skills.
Despite the fact the Prince George's County school officials are in the middle of a budget squeeze, they are excited about new programs such as basic reading instruction for seventh graders and a new basic math series for kindergarten through third grade.
Only after a look beneath the shell of academic curriculum into the nuts and bolts of the budget does thepicture of crises becomes clear.
Col. Elliot Robertson, superintendent of budget and finance for the school system, admits there is going to be a budget crunch this year, but adds "there won't be a ripple in the stream," when parents and students compare this school year to the last. He predicted, however, that students in special academic programs might have a tough time finding offerings if enrollment drops in those particular classes.
Belt-tightening by county school officials is due to scarce county runds this current fiscal year. School officials say that next year, an election year, it may be even tougher for the school system to get adequate funding.
Declining student enrollment, which has hit Prince George's County particularly hard, causing 10 elementary schools to be closed this last school year, has been another factor in the budget squeeze.
The school system is projecting more than a 2 per cent decline in total enrollment that will continue the trend of the last few years. Enrollment is expected to be 139,586, compared to 144,532 last year.
As a result of the declining enrollment, the number of school system employees has been trimmed by 2.1 per cent.
School Supt. Edward J. Feeney said he and other school officials "have been very careful in hiring new teachers so that there will be no lay-offs if student enrollment turns out as projected Sept. 30.
Feeney said he is stressing careful spending and emphasizing "increased structure and greater continuity" in the school curriculum.
According to Feeney, teachers must now stick to the basics "which have proved successful" and add their own initiatives to the curriculum as "an added plus."
In the area of discipline, which has been particularly sensitive for the school system, Feeney said he plans to continue to find alternatives to suspension as a remedy for discipline problems.
He said teachers and principals must develop communication, and student problems must be worked out with parent involvement.
Last year, some teachers complained that they were not getting enough discipline support from their principals. At Oxon Hill Junior High School, more than half of the teachers signed a grievance concerning the lack of discipline at their schools.
The board of education will add a new member to replace former school board member Jesse J. Warr Jr. who died during the last school year. The new school board member, Mrs. Bonnie Johns, is not expected to change the board's moderate perspective.
"We are looking forward to having Mrs. Johns' idea represented on our board," said Norman H. Saunders.
School board members say they will also have to deal with problems of the handicapped, the issue of coed physical education, along with the problems of closing schools and trimming the budget next year.
While some parents will be shuffling their students from schools that will be closed and coping with transportation problems, another set of parents will be sending their students to two new schools, Kettering Junior High and Potomac Landing Elementary School.
Other construction projects include the new auditorium at High Point Senior High School, installation or air-conditioning at Potomac Senior High to be completed in October, and the addition of athletic field lighting to High Point and Largo for evening sports.
Renovations for several existing elementary schools including, Accokeek, chillum, District Heights Parkway, Hyattsville and Hollywood, will begin this school year.
The school system also plans to maintain its prices for school lunches and plans to operate 817 buses to bring students to and from school.
A school official said the student teacher ratios should remain the same this year as well, with one teacher to every 28 elementary school students, one teacher to every 27 junior high school students and one teacher to every 25 high school students.
The school superintendent said the school system has developed an 800-page manual to assist teachers in the slow learning reading development program. He also said the school system's gifted student program.
"We worked very well with the county government last year and we expect to continue that relationship," said Feeney, who added that the school system hired a legislative assistant to help establish a line of communication with both county and state governments.
Feeney also said he is hopeful that a "trend" which he says is developing will continue. "We have been getting a number of calls from parents who placed their children in private schools back during desegregation - Now they want to reenroll them in public schools."
Feeney said his office has received nearly 20 calls from parents with children in private schools. "These parents are seeing that the county school system is improving," he said.