Prince George's County public school students are in their third week of school, but some are complaining that they still don't have all their textbooks.
"It's not too good, because since we don't have our books, we don't have anything to look at," said Victoria Badders, 13, an eighth-grader at Kenmoor Middle School in Landover. She said she had not received any of her textbooks.
There is a reason for that, Victoria.
In an effort to overhaul the school system's struggling academic program, schools chief Andre J. Hornsby ordered the replacement of textbooks in all the major subjects -- English, math, science and social studies, among others. All in all, Hornsby directed his staff to purchase as many as 500,000 new books -- after the budget was approved in July -- for the 137,000-student system and asked the vendors to deliver them byAug. 23, the first day of school.
But not all of the books and supplemental materials made it on time, Hornsby acknowledged. Once all the books did arrive, not all of them were coded, making for a slow distribution at a handful of schools, he said.
In the case of at least one school, the problem was not getting the books in, but underestimating how many were needed. At Thomas G. Pullen School in Landover, for example, more students enrolled this year than expected, requiring the school system to send another batch of books to the campus.
Still, instruction continued, Hornsby said, as teachers were given a set of classroom textbooks for students to use during the school day. Although he could not say how many students were without books, Hornsby maintained the problem was not widespread.
"[We ordered] 300 to 400,000 new textbooks this year," Hornsby said. "If there are a few kids that didn't get books that first week of school, I think that's a miracle."
Unless, of course, you're a parent whose child hadn't received any books as of earlier this week. Parents point to the irony of the school system's decision to start classes a week earlier than usual, despite not having the supplies needed to deliver the curriculum.
"It's ridiculous. It doesn't make any sense," said Gene Kilby, whose son is in the seventh grade at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Lanham. "We have to be up on what they're learning and you get that from reading their books. The only way the test scores are going to improve is if parents are involved, and they can't get involved reading photocopied sheets."
"It's pretty hard for the children to study the subject without the books, which limits the learning," said William Ferrell, whose daughter is a sophomore at Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale. "It's a really tough situation."
Hornsby directed principals to start distributing the new books Aug. 30, a week after classes began. He said he told them they were to finish handing them out by the end of the second week of school.
At Flowers High School, Principal Helena Nobles-Jones said she had received her books within the first two weeks of school but had to put bar codes on them before distributing them, which was planned for this week . But Nobles-Jones said much work has been done in the first two weeks of school, as teachers have used the time to assess students' abilities.
"Not having the textbooks does not keep one from teaching," she said.
Metal Detector Added
If you're headed to the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro, prepare to go through the same routine required of visitors to the county courthouse, who must place all their electronic equipment in a basket and walk through a metal detector.
The new security measure went into effect this week.
Jim Keary, a spokesman for County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), said the county did a survey of its security system last year and decided that installing the metal detector was a necessary enhancement. The county has also increased security personnel at other county buildings.
More Late Legislation
It doesn't seem that the county executive is getting the message that the County Council has repeatedly sent upstairs: Don't send us legislation at the last minute.
And council Chairman Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) didn't seem too pleased to have to ask the question again of Johnson's legislative liaison, Aisha Braveboy.
"Why is it so late?" Knotts said during this week's council session.
"I'm not aware of why it was so late," Braveboy said.
At issue was a routine bill that comes before the council every year that deals with changing the county's homestead property tax rate. Johnson wants to increase the homestead property tax rate (which has an impact on assessment value) to 103 percent. It is currently at 102 percent.
In order for the rate to go through the legislative process and take effect July 1, 2005, it needed to be introduced by Tuesday, according to council administration. Ordinarily, council staff said, the request is sent down to the council in July.
Johnson sent his request Sept. 3, just before the council's three-day holiday break.