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Gifted program funding unclear

February 25, 2001

Gifted program funding unclear



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer

tarar@herald-mail.com

As the Washington County School Board makes progress on its proposed fiscal 2002 operating budget, there are several uncertainties regarding the funding of the school system's new gifted-and-talented program.

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Board members are unsure whether they'll be able to add money to the program, called Quest. They're also not certain whether approval has been given for administrators to move forward with the project and are wondering if teachers will be prepared to take on the new program by the start of the next school year.

Quest, which will serve gifted, talented and highly able students, will replace Project Challenge, a program for gifted elementary students. The program is to start out on the elementary level, and then be phased in over the years in all grade levels.

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Project Challenge had been intended to cover all grade levels, but it never got past the elementary schools because of a lack of funding, according to school officials.

School Board President J. Herbert Hardin claims that while the model of Quest was approved on Nov. 14, the board never approved its implementation plan.

"We really didn't vote to implement that," Hardin said. "The staff did that on their own."

When reached at home Sunday and asked to comment on whether the implementation plan was approved, Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett said, "I don't have any thoughts on that."

The minutes of the Nov. 14 meeting state the previous School Board voted 6-0 to approve the model, but those minutes don't state whether it voted on the implementation plan.

Board staff members are progressing with the program and have told the 16 Project Challenge teachers that their jobs were being eliminated. The teachers have been told that they can re-apply as Quest teachers for next school year. Since that announcement, it's been decided that tenured Project Challenge teachers will be able to remain on the job, Hardin said.

Administrators have asked for about $344,000 to get the Quest program started by next school year. The School Board has discussed the request, but so far they've come up empty in finding any additional money.

"As it looks now, it doesn't look like any portion of that would be funded," said School Board member Roxanne Ober. Ober is also a member of the board's Finance Committee, which is in charge of analyzing the budget and making recommendations.

"We have not come up with the funding at this point," Hardin said. "We just can't find that in our budget."

Bartlett did say Sunday that administrators would prefer receiving the money for Quest, but it's not a necessity.

"We'd certainly like that, but it's not required."

He said the board could use money that's already budgeted for Project Challenge to implement the beginning stages of Quest next year.

School Board member Doris Nipps said at a recent board meeting that she was concerned that the program wouldn't be as effective without adequate funding.

"We are very concerned that if it isn't funded right, it isn't going to work," Nipps said.

School Board member Paul Bailey noted at a recent board meeting he is concerned that teachers won't receive the proper training for the program by next school year.

"We're anxious to get a program on board, but if you're going to do it, do it well," Bailey said. "I think you need your teachers grounded."

Bernadette Wagner, vice president of the School Board, questioned at that meeting whether it would be more efficient to use Quest as a pilot program in only some of the school system's elementary schools next year.

School Board member Edward Forrest said at the Feb. 20 meeting the board was "putting the cart before the horse" and should find out whether the implementation plan was approved by the School Board.

Jonathan Kays, president of the Fountain Rock Elementary School PTA, isn't so sure Quest will work, since the board was never able to fully fund Project Challenge. "My kids both enjoyed Project Challenge," he said.

"They couldn't do it before, and now they're going to do it now?" Kays said Sunday of the project's implementation. "It doesn't make any sense."

He's also wondering how board administrators assessed the successes and failures of Project Challenge and came up with the decision to replace the program.

"They just dodged the entire issue," Kays said. "This whole thing was ill-conceived. There was never a proper assessment of this program. It's ridiculous that you would decide on a program that's not capable of being successful."

Hardin and Ober said the board would look for grants that might be used to fund Quest, but they're not sure any grants would apply.

"Money is going to dictate," Hardin said. "Where we'll find the additional money, I have no idea."

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