The St. Mary's County public school system should create a staff position focused solely on academic achievement issues, especially among minority students, the Board of Education declared during a work session last week.

The new position was one of several recommendations in a report that found that the dropout rate among black male students in the county has climbed as classroom performance for African Americans has lagged behind that of white students.

Acknowledging that St. Mary's County is not immune from the national achievement gap, the school board endorsed the report's recommendations, which also included recruiting more minorities as teachers and administrators and establishing an Academic Support Services Office that would regularly collect and analyze data on race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

"We have a moral and ethical responsibility to do this," said board member Mary M. Washington.

School board members were unanimous in their endorsement of the recommendations.

"There's no excuse for this [the achievement gap]," said John K. Parlett Jr., vice chairman of the board. "It's unacceptable."

Superintendent Patricia M. Richardson appointed a Student Achievement Task Force last summer to study the academic performance of African Americans after the Maryland Department of Education released its own report showing a statewide achievement gap between minorities and nonminorities.

Richardson said some of the committee's recommendations could translate into budgetary requests, though some members questioned whether funding for some initiatives would be available.

"We'll have to take something from someone to dedicate to this," said Michael L. Hewitt, board chairman.

Richardson said a job description for the new position would be drafted over the next few weeks.

The board also supported giving the committee a permanent role in the school system and regularly receiving reports from it on all achievement issues, such as the disparity in performance between male and female students.

Funding Sought for Water Study

Money to pay for a study of ground-water resources in Southern Maryland is included in the fiscal 2000 Department of the Interior appropriations bill.

The measure, which passed both the House and Senate last week, includes $140,000 to study future water demands in the region in light of population growth trends and after a year-long drought.

The study would be completed over a four-year period. Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties have committed to spending more than $350,000 on the effort, with the rest of the projected $1.4 million cost shared by state and federal governments. The $140,000 inserted in the Interior Department spending measure by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) represents the federal portion of costs for the first year of the study.

At the height of the drought in the summer, some residents in St. Mary's County and western Charles County who obtain their drinking water from private wells found the water table dropping below the level of their pumps. The idea for a study emerged from discussions over the summer and a summit in August organized by state Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-St. Mary's and Calvert) and attended by Hoyer as well as state and local officials from around Southern Maryland.

President Clinton has said he would veto the Interior Department spending bill unless Congress changes it. Congress has declined to fully fund his "Lands Legacy" initiative, aimed at acquiring environmentally and culturally significant land that is threatened by development. Clinton also opposes several environmental provisions.

Teen Driver Restrictions Vowed

The Maryland General Assembly will get another chance next year to restrict new teenage drivers.

State Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-St. Mary's and Calvert) released a statement last week promising to reintroduce his bill that would prohibit teenage drivers from transporting other minors as passengers during the first six months of their driver's licenses.

Dyson's proposal would exempt immediate family members and it would make the restriction a secondary offense, meaning that a ticket would be issued only when an officer had pulled the teenage driver over for another offense.

"Too many Maryland teens have been killed because their passengers were egging the driver on to speed or play road games or to pay more attention to what was on the radio than keep their eyes on the road," Dyson said in his statement.

Dyson cited an accident earlier this month that killed a Montgomery County teenager, who police and friends at the scene said was speeding to overtake two other vehicles. The state lawmaker also referred to the Calvert County accident last year in which three Patuxent High School students and the driver of the truck with which they collided were killed. The teenage driver in that incident had been involved in a road game with another car, according to witnesses.

Last year, Dyson's bill died in the Senate Committee on Judicial Proceedings. But he said he will return to the panel in the next session with these and other "sad tales of teens dying too young."

Goldstein Road Markers Enhanced

State transportation and local elected officials joined with the family and friends of the late Louis L. Goldstein to unveil two new signs along the highway through his native Calvert County that honor the longtime state comptroller.

The officials and family, along with a Maryland State Police honor guard, gathered Oct. 15 along southbound Maryland Route 2/4 at Broomes Island Road for a ceremony marking the occasion.

Route 2/4 through the county was dedicated to Goldstein in 1987, with two small signs, one in Solomons and one in Sunderland. Following his death in 1998, the state Comptroller's Office requested the new, more substantial signs. One of them is along southbound Route 2/4 at Maryland Route 509 near Port Republic; the other is along the northbound lanes just south of Pardoe Road in Lusby.