Education Is Top Priority

Despite a lack of current year funding, St. Mary's County has begun to talk about keeping [the] Tech Center plan alive. That makes good sense to me. In fact, as I view the St. Mary's County schools' five-year capital budget, I see a number of proposed renovations that need to be accomplished soon and no money in sight to provide even the county's share of the cost. I have not heard anyone criticizing the Board of Education for the priority of the projects in its five-year capital budget. I have not heard anyone saying let's not renovate and expand our schools. I have only heard commissioners talking about delaying projects because of a lack of money, while everyone else sadly agrees.

I have neither children nor grandchildren in St. Mary's County public schools, but I still believe that education is the highest priority for county governmental activity. When you ask a child to wait five years of [a] 12-year education for facilities in which to have the highest quality educational experience, you have asked him/her to wait for almost half the period of his/her public school education.

* Fact: The county will probably use up its bonding authority in fiscal 2001 and likely be unable to borrow more money after that year.

* Fact: There are 77 relocatable classrooms in use this year, 29 of which are providing classrooms at Leonardtown High School during its renovation. Thus 48 relocatables are not at Leonardtown. Nine of our elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools are over their state-rated capacity in the Board of Education's November 1999 facilities inventory. (One elementary and one high school should come off that list by the end of this year).

* Question: What is the effect of a relocatable classroom on children's performance on standardized tests?

* Answer: This answer is taken from a study of student performance . . . from 1990 to 1995 in Johnson County, N.C. The elementary school attended by one set of students burned to the ground, and authorities had no choice but to place the children in relocatable classrooms. The study concludes, "It is quite clear that placing students in temporary, mobile classroom units had a very significant and negative impact on the performance of students. The year following the Four Oaks School destruction and subsequent students [sic] relocation, the average CAT scores went from 7 percent above the norm to 10 percent below the norm, a 17 percent decrease in performance." Scores did not return to above the norm until the new school was completed.

* Fact: The current Board of County Commissioners feels that it cannot raise property taxes or income taxes.

* Fact: The money needed to carry out the Board of Education's current five-year capital program can be made available without raising property taxes or income taxes. It will require an impact fee set at $6,360, an environmental fee of $50 per household (which provides an enterprise fund for solid waste, thus freeing the general revenue that now funds solid waste to be used for school funding), and a one-half percent increase in the recordation tax. Add to that the $4 million in fiscal 2000 bonding authority which will not be used because the county is not involved in Tudor Hall and other previously planned projects, and $43 million in revenue and carry-overs during the next five years has been created. That's more than enough to fund the Board of Education's request.

* Question: Is there the political will in St. Mary's County to create this revenue and build the schools?

* Answer: This Board of County Commissioners has been unusually responsive to public opinion. They will raise the revenue if the citizens of the county demand that they do so.

If citizens, parents and grandparents of St. Mary's County are willing to require that education be given the highest priority, they must call, write or e-mail their commissioners and tell them to create this revenue and use the money for schools. If citizens do not urge the commissioners, nothing will change.

CLARE WHITBECK

Leonardtown

Raise Athlete GPA Bar

I staunchly support raising the bar on the Charles County Public School minimum GPA standard for student athletes from its current 1.75 to at least 2.00 or even 2.25. The road to commitment to "excellence in education" cannot and must not take a detour when it comes to athletics.

The mission of our public school system is to properly prepare its students to cope with and compete with the challenges of higher education and/or the business world within which all students must eventually become a participant. Making life easier in school doesn't make life easier out of school. Watering down the challenges in school doesn't do any student justice--athlete or not. Life in school in no way replicates life in work as far as taking the easy road is concerned.

Business owners expect and deserve employees who are honest, dependable, disciplined and who demonstrate responsible work ethics. How are we preparing our students--future employees for businesses--to succeed in the real world when we lower the bar of quality education and achievement standards just so they can play sports? That doesn't happen in the business world or in real life, and it should not be happening in our school system. Good, hard-working students who consistently strive to meet tough challenges, goals and standards typically carry that same pride, desire to achieve and hard work ethic to the job market--and succeed in their endeavors.

Education should be learned; graduation should be earned!

There should be no shortcuts or rolling back of standards if we are truly dedicated to "educational excellence" in Charles County. We must continue to work with students who have attention deficit disorders, dyslexia or other special learning problems--because we have an obligation to ensure they have every opportunity to reach their fullest potential. But for athletes, we shouldn't diminish the challenges they face in achieving academic standards in school any more than they would expect we should diminish the challenges of achieving victory on the playing field. Nothing worth having comes easy, nor should it. We cannot in good conscience continue to graduate student-athletes who barely meet a 1.75 GPA when we know full well that they have not been properly educated and prepared to meet the tougher challenges they will face on the playing field of life. Athletic students must realize that it isn't the athletic prowess they demonstrate in their respective sport that will keep them gainfully employed in good-paying jobs, but a solid, challenging and quality education.

I strongly encourage the Board of Education to demonstrate its unwavering commitment to educational excellence in Charles County Public Schools by raising the minimum GPA for student athletes to at least 2.0 and possibly 2.5. The product of our school system should be graduating students who have met the challenges of rigid academic standards and received the highest quality education possible to properly prepare them for their respective journeys in life. That product should in no way be compromised just because they happen to be participating in athletics. Quality education of our children is an absolute necessity in today's world and remains our greatest responsibility as their teachers.

AL SMITH

Waldorf

Editor's note: The writer is a candidate for school board in the March 7 primary election.

Parent Wants Higher GPA

On Sunday, Dec. 26, I read an article in the Washington Post Southern Maryland Extra edition entitled "Board Debates Student Athlete GPA Standards" written by staff reporter Nancy Trejos. I would like to commend Jason Baker for his hard work academically and his hard work in his athletic endeavors. It is comforting to know that this young man truly has his priorities in order which will ultimately help him in his studies in college and in his subsequent career choice.

I would also like to thank Charles County school board members Sharon Caniglia and Margaret Young for their positive comments for this upcoming debate regarding whether to maintain the 1.75 GPA (a "D" average) for student athletes or to raise the standard. Both statements were encouraging for the school system, its academic requirements and for its students.

I am somewhat puzzled by the statement made by Charles County school board member Mary Haff. At first I hoped she had been misquoted, but I don't think so. Haff stated, "If that's all they can do, then we have no business setting them up to not be part of that. No matter how hard we try, there will be kids who just can't hack it. They need to leave school feeling that they have accomplished something." If I am to take her statement literally, then I have to believe she would like to maintain the 1.75 GPA average (the "D" average) for a student to participate in any school athletic program, which clearly sends the wrong message to all students who wish to participate in the athletic programs offered at their respective schools. I ask Mary Haff the following questions:

* If that is all a student can do (play sports), then why is that student in high school?

* Will a student, any student, feel that they have accomplished something maintaining a "D" average in their academic studies?

* Are the athletic programs offered in Charles County an entitlement for all students, or is it a privilege the students earn?

* During your campaign, was that your pledge to the parents to make kids feel they have accomplished something by maintaining a "D" average? . . .

I am very happy with the Charles County school system and the education that it presently provides my two sons. . . . My standards (3.50 GPA with only one "C" permitted) for my sons are much higher than Mary Haff's and there is no compromise in that standard. I respectfully ask the school board to raise the GPA for those students wishing to participate in athletics to a standard equal to or higher than the one presently being utilized by Calvert County.

WILLIAM T. WHIGHAM

La Plata

Speak English in America

I read with dismay the statement in the Maryland Notebook [Extra, Dec. 12] by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend that "we've all got to stop learning just one language, we've got to learn many." This she proclaims is necessary because we are becoming a diverse society, which will be our glory. Would be this was true but the facts are that the out-of-control immigration and ethnic self-interest since the 1960s has created the most fractious society I have seen in 72 years of living. Until the 1960s the people who came to this country did so to seek the benefits of being an American and, therefore, for the most part eagerly assimilated into our society. The vast majority enthusiastically tried to learn to speak, read and write the English language--the language of their adopted land. The desire to assimilate and the learning and use of a common language are what made this the greatest [nation] in the history of civilization.

There is no justification for the lieutenant governor's statement. The people who come to this country to live and take advantage of its benefits should learn the language and customs that made it great, which is the very reason they wanted to come here. It is ludicrous to say that the American people should learn the languages of each wave of immigrants that enters the country. None of these people were coerced into coming here. If they don't want to assimilate, fine--they are free to return to their native lands and be happy.

EDWARD P. LYNCH

Hollywood

Animal Shelter Thankful

We end 1999 on a very positive note at the Tri-County Animal Shelter. For the first time that we can document, we have passed the 1,000 animal mark with adoptions. This does not include the approximately 3,500 animals rescued and many hundreds more that have been returned to their owners.

We thank everyone who has helped the animals at the shelter this year. Every adopter and rescue worker makes a world of difference. We also thank all the responsible pet owners who have their pets spayed/neutered, vaccinated and tagged, and the wonderful people who have made donations of money and supplies.

[In 1999] we also started offering microchipping to animals that were adopted or reclaimed. By being able to "scan" each animal coming into the shelter, we can (and have) greatly increased the number of animals who make it home again safely.

Lastly, we would like to extend a special thanks to Jones Intercable Company for starting the "Adopt-A-Pet" television show that airs in Calvert and Charles counties. We have been able to interview many interesting guests and showcase the adoptable animals here at the shelter. . . .

We would like to share a bit of a letter from Kristin Tucker, a 9-year-old from Calvert County. She writes, "I think we should help the animal shelter. We could help it by getting a cat or a dog from the shelter. If the animals stay there too long it could get too crowded and some animals will be put to sleep. They need to make room for the animals coming in." Kristin adds, "They need people to play with. They also need people to love."

Let's make 2000 the year when every animal has a person to love and play with.

DONALD P McGUIRE, director

(along with other staff members)

Tri-County Animal Shelter

Hughesville

Mothers' Right to Life

I must respond to Mr. Kugler's comments (Letters, Dec. 19) concerning abortion doctors and the Roe v. Wade decision.

Mr. Kugler contends that these doctors lack ethics and morality because they apparently ignore the positions of several medical associations and the International Code of Medical Ethics that human life begins at conception and that a doctor's primary duty is to respect and preserve human life. Mr. Kugler asks, "What [do] the disciplines of philosophy and theology have to do with the making of decisions concerning life and death matters.?"

They have to do with life and death decisions because the mother's life is involved with that of the unborn, and the mother has just as much a right to her life as the unborn. The abortion controversy has to do with philosophical and theological differences concerning when the mother's life takes precedence over that of the unborn.

Prompted by the Roe v. Wade decision, Mr. Kugler also asks, "Where is it written or suggested in our Constitution that the justices of the Supreme Court have the authority to give mothers or their doctors the 'right' to kill innocent, unborn babies?" The authority is in Amendment IV: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated."

During the first three or four months of a pregnancy, the mother (or her doctor) can conceal an abortion. To determine whether an abortion has occurred, the government would have to test the woman or subpoena her doctor's records. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decided that these actions would be unreasonable searches (and would set a horrible precedent). Even though I am very much opposed to abortion, especially for the convenience of the mother, I believe the Court was correct in this decision.

The only way to enforce a ban on unauthorized abortions would be to require monthly tests of all fertile women to confirm when a pregnancy occurs and how it ends. Such a government program would not only be incredibly expensive, but it would also be a blueprint for massive government intrusion into private lives for less noble purposes.

Mr. Kugler and I can take some solace in the fact that no woman is required to undergo an abortion and that many women share our repugnance for them.

BRUCE KIRK

La Plata

Inspect Rental Housing

St. Mary's County should have local officials and department personnel that perform yearly or bi-yearly house inspections. I am glad to see the county commissioners ask department heads to review rental housing regulations.

An example is what happened in Garrett Park trailer park in Park Hall. Many of these homes had electrical problems, no heat, no sewer or water and broken windows. A lot of these homes are not even livable. This is a safety issue for the owners and also for the tenants of these homes. It makes a lot of sense to me to have inspections done and make sure each home is safe and livable--by a certified home inspector.

If these homes are not safe and are a health or safety problem, something needs to be done. If this goes on without concern, this will only make matters worse for the working class people and families. Landlords should be responsible for safety inspections.

WILLIAM R. DEXTER JR.

California

Share the Trash Traffic

The headline chosen by the newspaper for my Dec. 5 letter to the editor said "Defending Trash Station" as I was defending and supporting our transfer station located in Calvert County. My letter was not defending any exact location in particular for a trash transfer station in St. Mary's or Charles County.

One writer explained that "Commissioner Parran might get stuck behind some smelly trash truck near the Benedict Bridge" as he explained that trash trucks head north from Charlotte Hall through the narrow Route 5 Hughesville corridor. The Benedict Bridge is about five miles east of Hughesville so I doubt if traffic on Route 5 will cause any problems near Benedict.

But speaking of the Benedict Bridge, is it just me, or do other people also think the bridge surface is really bad? Hopefully state officials have also noticed and plan to do something about it.

A trash transfer station located somewhere in central or northern St. Mary's County would reduce Calvert County's transfer station truck traffic that comes across the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge at Solomons and through St. Mary's County and on to Virginia. The less trash that Calvert County gets from St. Mary's County, and even from Charles County, would mean that much less Virginia-bound truck traffic traveling through southern Calvert and through St. Mary's County.

JOHN DOUGLAS PARRAN

Calvert County Commissioner

Prince Frederick

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