When it opened six years ago, the elite science and technology center at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt had the newest labs, the latest equipment and some of Prince George's best students. But can it remain the country's "super school"?
No, say Roosevelt's science teachers, not unless the county pumps more money into the school. They say programs are being cut, lab groups are getting larger, and equipment and supplies needed to make the courses the best no longer can be purchased.
"What we are saying is that we cannot continue to offer the program without additional funding," said chemistry teacher Bruce Katz. When Eleanor Roosevelt opened six years ago, he said, "we were stocked extremely well. Our supplies have been constantly eroded away. Our store rooms are completely bare."
Joseph Kroto, the head of Roosevelt's science department, says he wants the school board to provide "differential funding" for the school of about $10 a year for each of the 1,000 students. This year, Roosevelt, like all county high schools, received $2.70 for each science student to pay for equipment and supplies.
The school has received supplemental money in the past, but such funds are increasingly hard to find, Katz said. The results are becoming apparent, he added.
"In advanced placement chemistry, due to the cost and lack of materials, lab groups that had three and four people now have five or six," he said.
Kroto, a biology teacher, said lack of money is whittling away the "extras" provided by the school. The school doesn't have to offer labs in micro-biology, for example, "but in my program I had 20 labs. Now that's down to 10."
Earlier this month, Katz and Roosevelt's Parent Teacher Student Association took their case to the school board. Katz told the board that science classes at Roosevelt "are funded at the same level as science classes at every other county high school," and that this "does not take into account the number of advanced-level science courses and the large number of sections of these courses." Roosevelt offers 21 advanced-level science courses.
Sidney Blum, science supervisor for the county schools, said Kroto's $10 figure "seems a bit high." He added that Roosevelt's "initial allotment is the same as other schools, but they (Roosevelt's programs) are supplemented very generously." By his calculations, he said, Roosevelt received $14,522 in extra money in 1980 from outside sources. "The allotment that year (for science supplies and equipment) was $3 per student. Eleanor Roosevelt students, however, received about $5."
These allotments vary considerably from year to year. Last year it was $3.20 but this year the amount has fallen to $2.70.
"I'm very pleased about what the Roosevelt people are doing," Blum said. "I'm very proud of what they produce, and I'd like to be able to support them as generously as possible. But we also have to be fair to the rest of the system. We can't deprive other parts of the system by letting them (Roosevelt administrators) have everything they want. What we're looking for is a balance."
School board member Angelo Castelli, whose son attended Roosevelt, said he will support the teachers' request.
"No question about it," he said. Castelli represents the Oxon Hill area. He said he wants to ensure that similar problems do not arise with the new Science and Technology Center that will open in Oxon Hill High School next September. "Are we going to pay lip service (to the concept) or are we going to provide these kids with sufficient equipment?"
Board Chairman Jo Ann Bell was less enthusiastic. "There isn't a teacher in the county who doesn't think their students are different and need more help," she said, adding that all schools have been suffering the effects of smaller budgets. "I would hate to see (Roosevelt's) program cut away so much that it lessens it, but we've said that for the last three years for all our programs."
At the school last week, students said they have noticed the problems. "I definitely see a difference," said Donald Davidoff, a senior hoping to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology next year. "This year in AP (advanced placement) physics we have a lab in which we have to measure the time it takes a weight to fall. So you need very accurate measures. You have to use a light beam to measure." But one of the two existing measures was broken, he said, and the school could not obtain another one.
Renee Peloquin, a senior whose goal is Princeton, recalled an AP physics lab earlier this semester in which special tables were needed for experiments measuring the equilibrium of forces. "We didn't have enough of them," she said. While half the students conducted experiments, "one half of the class had to do homework."
Katz pointed to a broken gas chromatograph, used to analyze samples in advanced chemistry classes, as an example of failing equipment. "We don't know whether we have the money to fix it," he said. "The school is now six years old. Stuff is starting to need repairs, but that money is not allotted. . . ."
School Board Vice Chairman Doris A. Eugene said the financial problems of all schools should be investigated before a decision is made on whether to grant "differential funding" to Roosevelt. "Many of our teachers say if they had the same sort of equipment and supplies, they could do that sort of thing too." While Roosevelt's Science and Technology Center is the only county school with entrance examinations, Eugene said "we have talented children in all our schools."
On Dec. 12 the Roosevelt representatives will appear again and the board will hear a report being prepared by Deputy Superintendent Allan I. Chotiner.
If the school board agrees that Roosevelt should receive more money, it probably will be slipped into the 1982-83 budget now being prepared, said board members. "If it came to a vote, we would probably win," Kroto said.