An Update on the News item in the Jan. 17 Metro section mischaracterized Arlington School Board member Mary H. Hynes's comments on new start times at Key Elementary School. Hynes said the schedule change was popular among Latino parents. (Published 02/02/2000)

Arlington Wrestling With School Starts

Timing the start of the school day to make everyone happy can be an elusive goal, and the Arlington School Board, faced with a shortage of bus drivers and parental concern over their children's starting times, is no stranger to the issue.

Last August, board members faced the wrath of some angry parents of elementary students who were upset with making the start times of the Abingdon, Arlington Traditional and Key elementary schools 30 to 70 minutes later. School staff said the changes were needed because of a shortage of school bus drivers.

"It's still a mess," Mary Moran, president of the PTA for Arlington Traditional, said last week. "Our kids are getting off the bus in the dark."

The board ended up paying for three months of before- or after-school care for students who hadn't needed it under the old schedule, said board member Mary H. Hynes.

It isn't clear whether all of the later starting times will be retained. Hynes said there hasn't been a unanimous agreement on the question. "We've gotten letters from all three of the schools' PTAs, and in no school was it 100 percent opposed or 100 percent for," Hynes said. "At Key, they really liked the change."

On Thursday, the board will get a staff report on a proposal to make high schools start later in the day. A committee of parents has already recommended that high schools start later, basing its recommendation on research that says adolescents need more sleep. Efforts to do the same in Montgomery and Fairfax counties have been halted by concerns about the costs and complications.

-- Christina A. Samuels

Tougher Campaign Finance Laws Urged

The feverish pace of fund-raising before the Maryland General Assembly convened for its yearly session last week has prompted a government watchdog group to call for strengthening campaign finance reporting laws.

Three years ago, Maryland lawmakers voted to prohibit fund-raising during the annual 90-day legislative session. That rule, coupled with an early start to the 2002 campaign season, brought on a pre-session fund-raising rush that reached new heights this year, according to lawmakers and lobbyists.

Less than a week before the Assembly's session began, Maryland legislators packed in a dozen fund-raisers, six of them in a single day.

Powerless to slow the pace of pre-session giving, Common Cause/Maryland has decided to push for new rules to better track money flowing to lawmakers in the days before they sit down to start weighing legislation.

Kathleen Skullney, executive director of the group, said she is looking for a legislator to sponsor a bill that would add a campaign finance reporting period between November and February. Any lawmaker who collects more than $5,000 in that time would have to file an additional report disclosing the amounts, dates and donor names.

The bill, a similar version of which died in a House committee last year, is designed to capture pre-session giving that Skullney and others worry influences policy decisions during the legislative session.

"We're doing this because of the intensity of fund-raising this year and certainly immediately before the session," Skullney said. "The public should know."

Maryland law limits donors to giving $10,000 in a four-year campaign cycle, and many candidates already have begun raising money in earnest for the 2002 state elections. The result is an early start in the competition for the limited pool of campaign money, which lobbyists and lawmakers say explains the pace of the pre-session fund-raising.

Skullney said Del. Elizabeth Bobo (D-Howard), who co-sponsored last year's bill, has expressed interest in doing so again.

-- Scott Wilson