The following items were discussed by the Howard County Board of Education at its May 24 meeting. For more information, call 992-0500.
SCHOOL BUS OWNERSHIP -- Board members delayed action on a proposal that the school system buy and operate some school buses, telling school transportation staffers to check the accuracy of the figures in their proposal.
School staffers say that the county could save money by operating at least some buses, a service that is now provided by private contractors. According to a transportation consultant's report, the county could save as much as $1.7 million over the next 10 years if the school system bought and operated 40 additional buses, instead of leasing them, to serve an expanding school-age population.
An attorney representing 58 private contractors who provide bus service to county schools contends that the report's cost calculations are wrong. Thomas Meachum, the attorney, told the board recently that school transportation costs would go up, not down, if the board buys and operates some of its own school buses.
Board members ordered Robert Lazarewicz, school director of operations, to review the figures for administrative, salary and other costs in the proposal and deliver a final set of recommendations at the board's June 14 meeting. The board tentatively scheduled a June 28 vote on the proposal.
Howard County has one of the largest private-contract school bus services in the state, with 333 buses hired to transport 23,200 students daily. The staff proposal calls for the school system to acquire 40 school buses by 1994 to supplement the private-contract system.
The bus contractors have expressed their opposition to the plan, contending that the current system is working well and is economical for the county.
The transportation consultant's report, ordered by school staffers, says the county will save money on equipment, administrative and personnel costs by operating some of its own buses. According to Meachum, the contractors' attorney, however, the report overstates private bus contractors' costs while understating the cost of county-owned service.
The report projects, for example, a 5 percent annual increase in fuel costs for private contractors but doesn't include annual fuel cost increases for county-run bus service, Meachum said. The report's cost projections also do not include the cost of a two-bay garage the school system would have to build to maintain its buses, he said.
COMPUTER INSTRUCTION -- The board authorized a staff plan to expand an experimental computer keyboard instruction program begun this year at two county elementary schools to all 28 Howard County elementary schools. School staffers say teaching students how to use computer keyboards at an early age will encourage them to learn word-processing skills that will be valuable as they progress through the school system.
As part of the plan, all third-grade students in county elementary schools will begin receiving keyboard instruction next year. Fourth graders will begin receiving instruction in the 1991-92 school year, and fifth graders in the 1992-93 school year.
The plan calls for third graders to receive 30 minutes of instruction each week for eight weeks; fourth graders, 30 minutes of instruction for four weeks; and fifth graders, 30 minutes of instruction for two weeks. As they progress to higher grades, students will be encouraged to spend increasingly more time using the computer as a writing tool, said Richard Weisenhoff, executive supervisor of computer-related instruction for county schools.
Howard County schools already have personal computers for students, the number of computers varying from school to school. The keyboard education program will cost about $8,000 in the first year and less in the following two years as software is purchased and teachers are trained to give keyboard instruction, Weisenhoff said.
The experimental keyboard instruction program begun last fall at Bollman Bridge and Northfield elementary schools has noticeably improved students' keyboard skills, school officials said.