Hundreds of thousands of dollars were cut from sports and other activities in this year's Prince George's County school budget. But some of these programs could have been saved with a little imaginative thinking, according to school board candidate Paul R. Shelby.
Shelby, a Bowie attorney and former county teacher, says he has ways to tackle the problems of athletics and driver education cutbacks and a way to cope with large class sizes.
Shelby, 45, taught American history and government at Belair Junior High and Bowie Senior High from 1963 to 1977. In 1972, he entered the University of Baltimore Law School and graduated in 1976. For a year he taught full time and practiced law part time. Then he gave up teaching.
"It was always something in the back of my mind," Shelby said of his career switch. He joined a Bowie law practice shared at the time with state Dels. Bob Redding and Gerard F. Devlin and former state delegate David Ross.
But Shelby said he never lost contact with the schools. His wife Martha is a physical education teacher at Samuel Ogle Middle School in Bowie, where his daughter Jill, 13, is a student. His son Matthew, 8, attends Rockledge Elementary School. Last year, Shelby was PTA president at Meadowbrook Elementary School in Bowie--the year the school closed.
When veteran school board member A. James Golato decided to leave his seat in the 5th School Board District, which encompasses Bowie, to run for County Council, Shelby decided to run for the board.
"I felt that this is the one area of government that I know something about, that I have some experience in," he said.
Golato, who initially supported another attorney from Bowie, Gregory B. Barth, for the board, says he will not get involved in the race now that Barth has withdrawn. Two of the four candidates for the seat, Shelby and teacher Nancy C. Cummings, live in Bowie, and both have been active supporters of Golato. "The two of them, both being teachers, would bring something extra to the school board," Golato said.
Shelby has "a very broad background which runs through the whole spectrum," said Bowie mayor and Shelby supporter Richard J. Logue. "He doesn't represent any particular group, which is probably the best thing he's got going for him. I think he'd be very fair. . . . Something that seems to be needed is a fresh look, from somebody not tied down to unions, or teachers, or the school system itself--somebody who can make good rational judgments."
Shelby argues that county schools need not deteriorate because of recent budget cuts.
"I don't really want to preside over the demise of quality education in Prince George's County," he said. "What we need are some innovative programs to keep that quality education."
Class size is increasing because of budget cuts, he said, but there are ways to make the most of difficult circumstances without spending more.
"The most important person in the child's education is the classroom teacher" because the teacher gives the student individual attention, he said. This relationship can be preserved by what Shelby called the "small class-large class concept."
Much of the work a teacher does, such as demonstrations and showing films, can be done by a teacher's aide, he said. If this is done, he said, it frees teachers to work with students in small groups or individually.
"It's nothing new or original to me," Shelby said. "It's something we were taught when I was studying education 15 years ago."
As an example, he said aides could present driver education films while the teachers handle actual in-car instruction. "I think the (driver education) program could have been saved by using the teachers where they can do the most good professionally," he said. "I think you could have cut the cost of driver education in half, at least, and saved the program."
Shelby, who coached tennis as a teacher, also said cuts in athletics were misguided. "I think that sports are a very important part of the school program--the fun part. It's what keeps a school together. It's the only part of school that's fun for some kids."
A further problem, he said, is that minor sports, such as golf and tennis, tend to be cut. "Not every kid can play football," he noted.
He maintained that athletic programs could be expanded, rather than reduced, if efforts were made to involve the community. He said only three of the county's 19 high schools have lighted playing fields, and that these often go unused. The school system should try to turn the fields into community fields, rather than simply school fields, he said. In Bowie, where soccer is popular, better use could be made of the Bowie High School field, he noted.
But while Shelby says the school system could make better use of the money it has, he believes it should try to get more. He supports the TRIM plus Four amendment, which would allow small increases in property tax collections. But he said even if the amendment passes, the school system cannot hope for much more than a 3 percent budget increase next year, which is not likely to keep pace with inflation.
He said the school board must encourage the county government to look for money from sources other than property tax revenues, which are limited to 1979 levels by the TRIM charter amendment, to help pay for the school system.
"The Board of Education . . . will have to work more closely with the County Council, almost as a lobbying group . . . instead of going to the County Council once a year and saying, 'Here's our budget,' " he said.
Shelby said the board also needs to change its approach. "I think the problem with the board is that it reacts, rather than acts," he said. School administrators come to the board with problems and recommend solutions, he said. "The board ought to take a more active part in proposing solutions . . . proposing programs and have a feasiblity study of proposed solutions done by the adminstration."
With a background as a teacher and lawyer, the business experience of running a law firm and a degree in economics, Shelby said he can be instrumental in making such changes