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County gets funds to add teachers

December 05, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

HANCOCK - Washington County will receive $410,705 in federal funding that will allow 10.5 teachers to be added in first, second and third grades next school year, officials announced Friday.

Experts say that if teachers in those grades have smaller classes, it will allow them to give students more individual attention, said U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md.

That attention could help young children better learn to read, resulting in tremendous benefits, said Sarbanes, who was in town on Friday touring Hancock Middle-Senior High School.

Adding 10.5 teachers would only drop the average class size for first through third grades by one student to 20.9 students, but could have a more dramatic effect since only some schools will get new teachers with the funding, said John Festerman, director of elementary education for the Washington County Board of Education.

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Jenny Belliotti, president of the Washington County Council of PTAs, said the funding for new teachers was "wonderful."

"I know just from being a part of the budget process and going before the commissioners it's a deep concern in Washington County, especially at that grade level," she said.

Belliotti said when her daughters were going through the early elementary grades they were in classes of 31 or 28 students.

If Washington County followed President Clinton's initial goal to reduce class sizes to 18 students in kindergarten through third grade, it would cost the county $1.7 million for 63 new teachers, Festerman said. That estimate is only for minimum salaries.

Festerman said he is reviewing budget requests now from the county's 25 elementary schools, Marshall Street School and Fairview Outdoor School.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. and school board members will decide which schools get new teachers as they develop a budget for next school year, he said.

The underlying commitment from Congress was to provide the funding for seven years, but Congress will need to approve each year's appropriation, Sarbanes said.

School board member B. Marie Byers said the federal funding won't lower the class size enough for every school and that board members will look at adding more teachers with local funds as well.

Members of Congress will try again this year to secure funding to add classrooms to make room for the new teachers that will be hired with the $410,705, Sarbanes said.

Frederick County, Md., is getting $401,365 to help reduce class sizes, said Tim Magrath, Sarbanes' field representative for Western Maryland.

Sarbanes was touring the Hancock school because it was one of 166 schools nationwide to be named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence for 1997-1998.

Principal Bo Myers took Sarbanes to several classrooms, where the senator quizzed students about whether they knew what being a Blue Ribbon School meant.

Sarbanes told the students it will mean they will have to continue to work hard so they can win the honor again. Blue Ribbon schools have to wait four years after they win the honor to apply again.

Hancock Middle-Senior was the first Washington County school to win the honor at the state and national levels.

Salem Avenue Elementary School was named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence on the state level last month.

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