ANNAPOLIS – Six Eastern Shore school superintendents told lawmakers Thursday that schools are increasingly overburdened by state regulations and social problems that take money away from education.
They aired a laundry list of other concerns before the Eastern Shore delegation — including pesticide notification, dispensing of medication, economic development and a controversial bill to funnel money into the Baltimore school system.
Dorchester Superintendent J. Spicer Bell begged the delegation to see that state laws and assessment standards truly benefit students rather than add “baggage for school districts to carry.”
Superintendents were especially worried by a bill, supported by environmental organizations, that would require schools to alert parents of every child when pesticides are sprayed.
They said they could live with an alternative measure, sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, which would only require them to tell parents who ask to be put on a list.
They argued that the first proposal would cost too much money and that schools are not the sole source of pesticide exposure for kids.
“We do everything to keep from applying pesticides when children are there, but some youngster can go to a fast food restaurant tonight, and who knows what has been sprayed in there recently,” Bell said.
Superintendents also got warning that the Legislature may address a potential “time bomb” — the fact that employees other than trained nurses dispense medicine in schools.
“We have secretaries and teachers that are scared to death,” said Del. Ronald Guns, D-Cecil. “They’re not qualified to dispense medicine and they’re afraid they’ll be personally sued.”
Several superintendents said there was no money to hire more nurses and asked why county health departments could not be utilized to help solve the problem.
Queen Anne’s County Superintendent Bernard Sadusky also pointed out that when his district added more medical staff, parents began to rely on schools as pseudo-hospitals.
Guns was sympathetic, recalling one instance in which a parent yelled at a school employee who had not notified the mother that her child’s drug prescription had run out.
Del. Norman Conway, D-Wicomico, said schools need to set limits. “As schools are asked to do more and more…we haven’t been very good about saying no,” he said. “At some point you have to tell parents, `some of this responsibility is yours.'”
Superintendents seemed split on how a proposed $254 million settlement to Baltimore City schools in the governor’s budget could help their districts. The cash infusion was negotiated after a lawsuit alleged the city’s schools were pitiful.
“Our concern is that the money that goes into Baltimore City will be coming out of the pockets of other low-wealth counties,” said Bell.
But others saw an opportunity to convince the state to set aside special funds for rural counties with an equal percentage of students below the poverty level.
The school officials asked the delegation to fight for early education funding for poor children — one of the most successful ways to avoid expensive drop-out prevention, remedial education and alternative school programs, they said.
They also told the delegation that schools are increasingly hamstrung by illegal drugs, poverty and virtually every other social problem that comes down the pike. “We feel like we’re going to bat with two and a half strikes against us and a very short bat,” said James Horn, superintendent of Somerset County. -30-