ALTHOUGH the school board approved the proposal for an academic high school last week, it is not yet time for a sigh of relief. There is more to be done before a "happy ending" is put on this story -- namely, finding money to open and operate the academic high school. Former school board president R. Calvin Lockridge, one of two board members who voted against the academic high school, says that no matter what the board voted, without money there will be no academic model high school come September. And Mr. Lockridge is right when he says there is no money. In the fiscal 1981 budget for the schools, none has been allocated for the operation of a model academic school. The budget for fiscal 1982, which beins Oct. 1, does not have money for it either, because of the board's delay in approving the school. That '82 budget is already about $20 million short of the board's request for normal school needs. With no money to operate the academic high school, the school board, which earlier rejected the idea of such a school, would have a ready excuse for not opening it in September. The public and political pressure that persuaded the school board to vote for the school will be dissipated as the school becomes jsut another unfunded budget item, an apparent casualty of the city government's cuts in spending.
This cannot be allowed to happen. The proposed school represents more than just another expense to the city and the school system: it represents a possible new lease on life for a school system losing many of its black and white middle-class students because of lack of challenge. In the idea of that school is a chance for espcially smart District chidlren to remain in the public schools and know that their efforts will result in a top-notch education. Already some part of this ideal has been undermined by way of compromises to gain school board approval for the project. For exampe, there will be only 500 students in the school instead of 2,000 and the qualifications for entering the school have been loosened. This has been done in the name of making the school less "elite" (read racist). The fact that the school system is nearly 99 percent black has not made a dent in that specious argument for some reason.
The school board and acting superintendent James T. Guines can find money for the school in several places, the most appropriate of which is the current school budget. The excess is there. By all comparisons with other jurisdictions, as a recent study showed, the District has too many administrators. The District has 22,000 fewer students than does Prince George's county, for example, but about 80 percent more administrators. That extraordinarily high number of administrators should be reduced to find some money for the academic high school. A second promising place is the school board. The board has more research assistants and secretaries than any board in this area and than almost all big city school boards. A third place to look is in the budgets for existing high schools that will be sending students to the model high school. And finally, there are federal grants that the school board should apply for to help with the cost of the model high school.
But whatever the method of financing the school, the search must begin now. The academic high school idea, even in its less than perfect form, must be given a chance.