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School dropout program cuts likely

March 20, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

The Washington County Board of Education may find it harder to reduce the dropout rate next year if money for dropout programs is cut from the state budget.

State Budget Director Neil Bergsman said the Maryland General Assembly is likely to cut $5 million, more than half of the governor's original proposal, from dropout prevention programs across the state.

The money is part of federal aid given to states, which decide how to use it. Dropout prevention money pays for instructional positions and programs and for transportation expenses so students can participate in the programs.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has proposed spending $9.7 million for dropout prevention in the next fiscal year, but that would be sliced to $4.7 million if approved by legislators.

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Bergsman said he thinks the cut will be made, because Senate and House committees have recommended it.

"There will be a decrease in this pot," Bill Reinhard, a Maryland State Department of Education spokesman, said. "It's going to impact our programs. There's no doubt about it."

Reinhard said that faced with a lean budget, the legislature is moving funds around to cover some shortfalls.

He said the $5 million from the dropout prevention fund would go toward temporary assistance for families living in poverty.

Washington County Interim Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said no local money for dropout prevention programs has been included in the school system's 2003 operating budget to make up for the cut.

School officials said the dropout money has helped decrease Washington County's dropout rate.

Last year, 232 - 3.76 percent - of students dropped out. That number was down from the previous year, when 339 - 5.5 percent - dropped out. The State Department of Education's satisfactory dropout rate is 3 percent.

"Everybody has worked extra hard to lower the dropout rate," said Robert J. Beard, Washington County's principal of alternative educational programs. "To suddenly have something like this happen, it gets your attention in a hurry."

Beard said the school system receives more than $300,000 for middle school dropout programs and more than $200,000 for the county's Maryland's Tomorrow program.

Maryland's Tomorrow aims to boost the self-esteem of students who have fallen behind in school, provides career options and works with community agencies to assist students. It is in place at North and South Hagerstown high schools and Williamsport High School.

"We're going to lose kids in this," North High Principal David Reeder said. North High had the highest drop out rate in the county last year.

Reeder said the programs help students who have fallen behind in school earn credits so they can graduate.

Western Heights Middle School Principal Robert Myers said his school holds a Saturday Academy once a month to help keep kids on track in coursework and has after-school tutoring programs four days a week.

Myers said both are effective programs.

"If this goes down the tubes, I don't know what we would do," he said.

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