Parents who are anxious that their children go to college are often bewildered by the complexity of the higher-education world--particularly if they themselves did not go to college. This makes them very receptive to companies promising help with applying for financial aid and college admission.

One such group working in Montgomery County is College Financial Aid Services of America, based in Texas. It sends parents an official-looking letter inviting them to meetings where, in return for a lot of money, it promises to do a long list of things that any student should be able to do at school with the help of a high school guidance counselor. For example, it promises to "develop a list of possible college majors that should be considered," and to "Calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) based on the exact formulas of the Federal Methodology using our proprietary software."

The company charges $595 upon enrollment and "only $200 per year" as a "family service fee," according to a company brochure.

Margaret Morrison, Montgomery County's supervisor of guidance, said students and families should be able to get all the assistance the company promises right in their own high schools. "For any parent wanting to know about college financial aid issues, application issues, or any issues, contact a counselor or the career coordinator at the high school. All of these things are done free of charge," Morrison said.

Morrison advised parents to attend the financial aid nights and college application nights that are held at all the high schools in the fall. In addition, she said, the Hispanic Alliance and the NAACP hold annual informational meetings for parents that are helpful, particularly for first-time college-going families.

Anyone who wants to get a head start on the college application process is welcome to go to the high school career offices during the summer, Morrison said. In fact, summer is a good time for students to use the offices to find colleges, request application forms, obtain information on financial aid and even get a start on writing college application essays.

Morrison's biggest tip was that families should plan to apply for federal assistance as soon as they get their financial information together in January. "It is first-come, first-served," Morrison said. And if the money runs out in March, it doesn't matter how needy you are. So parents of incoming seniors should plan on getting federal financial aid forms from their high schools in December, gather their W-2s and other financial statements immediately after the start of the new year, and file those forms as soon as possible in January for the best chance at tuition assistance. And if you have questions and need help, that's what the high school's guidance counselors are for.

If you want to pay $800 to someone for telling you this, you can send me a check. But I advise you to save your money.

By the way, the College Financial Aid Services of America did not return my calls.

School Board History

Dear Homeroom:

I read with great interest your description of the Montgomery County school board, its composition, duties, etc. (June 3). I was not only a member of the first elected school boards (1954 and 1958), I was a very active member of the League of Women Voters, which was in the forefront of the fight for a Montgomery County elected school board.

You delineated the duties and purposes of the elected school board very accurately and clearly. I hope you will not be offended when I tell you that some of your historical background "facts" are not the facts. It was when we had an appointed school board, before 1954, with members appointed by the governor, that the "cronies at the county courthouse" and, I may add, "party bosses," kept power among themselves. They also had serious power over county planning and sewer and water lines in those days.

It was not they who made it so that school board candidates had to run countywide. This was written by our state legislators, following the suggestion of those of us who wanted to go to an elected school board. Our objective in countywide elections was to make each Board of Education member knowledgeable about the needs of all the schools as well as the schools in their area.

We sought to avoid turf battles (as we now see) as to which areas would get priority attention regarding building needs, or obtaining strong personnel. We in 1954 who ran for the board learned how to get countywide recognition; remember, the county population and school system were about one-quarter the present levels.

The legislation in the 1980s that changed the election system to require that school board members live in separate districts was passed because the school system, as well as the county population, had grown so large. It was hoped that district-based school board members could be more intimately informed about his or her area's school needs, problems, and parents' aspirations, still with a view to the county school system's overall requirements.

You also make the budget process between the school board and council sound more negative and antagonistic than it actually is. I have sat on both sides of the budget fence, as a school board member first and as a council member in 1968. Surely you realize that the council has to consider the school budget in relation to the budgets submitted by each county government department, and Park and Planning, as well as in relation to the tax rate it must levy to balance the budget. I found the council as a whole listened well, knowing the county's reputation is based on its school system.

Rose Kramer

Bethesda

Thank you for that history lesson. If any high school student is looking for a history project to do, tracing the political evolution of Montgomery County over the last 50 years would be an interesting one.

There are people like Rose Kramer who can give eyewitness accounts of all kinds of political fights, including the one to end segregated schools here in the county.

And as long as we're on the subject of the past, I feel I must take note of the death of Charles W. Gilchrist. Gilchrist was county executive when I first came to Montgomery County as a reporter, and I covered him off and on for years. He was a very smart guy who decided he wanted to be more than just smart but good as well. He was the living definition of an old-fashioned compliment: "a decent man."

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