Friday, January 2, 2004

Mother questions school's priorities

Each school does its own budget

By Denise Smith Amos
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Arden McBride pencils in answers in a workbook while her mother, Cara Washington, supervises at their College Hill home.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
COLLEGE HILL - Arden McBride, a chatty College Hill second-grader, looked down as she explained why she doesn't like school.

"I get bad grades (in math and reading)," she said.

She received a D in both subjects, but her most recent report card included a teacher's note that Arden is trying but "struggling."

Since Arden was diagnosed as developmentally delayed as a toddler, her mother, Cara Washington, has fought to help her catch up with her peers with speech therapists and preschool tutors.

Now Washington has been unable to get tutoring at her daughter's school, Schiel Primary School for Arts Enrichment, a magnet in Corryville.

Washington, a Hamilton County child support worker, questions how the school can pay for Suzuki violin lessons and dance movement, but not tutoring. "Where are their priorities?" she asked.

Superintendent Alton Frailey wouldn't discuss Arden's case specifically but said recently he is re-examining the issue of school priorities. He said the trend in recent years of allowing each school to set budgets may have gone too far, creating holes in the academic safety net.

It's hard to blame principals, Frailey said; some are just getting the hang of such budgeting. But unforeseen shortages have led principals to try tapping thin districtwide resources.

"A lot of schools buy what they want, then come to me begging for what they need," Frailey said.

Under former superintendent Steve Adamowski, each school gained nearly total autonomy of its budget. It was considered a fair way to ensure that when students change schools, the funding for their education follows them.

But many schools chose to reduce the number of clerks, librarians, reading specialists, teachers' aides, counselors or social workers.

Now, as a district team looks into centralizing some of those decisions, some observers predict opposition.

Chot VanAusdall, president of Cincinnati Parents for Public Schools, said schools want to keep what little financial wiggle room they have.

"I think some schools will be incensed," he said.

Washington's already incensed. She says she has done her part as a parent, ensuring Arden attends school, does her homework and reads nightly at bedtime. Washington bought workbooks she and Arden completed over winter break.

Now, she says, it's time for Schiel to step up. Principal A. Stanley Flower Jr. referred questions about Arden to district spokeswoman Janet Walsh.

Walsh suggested Washington explore other options, such as getting Schiel teachers, the school psychologist and a special education expert to work as a team with Arden. She also suggested seeking volunteer tutors.

Non-profit groups that find tutors and mentors, such as the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, have said they have more students in need than tutors to help..

Washington said she tried hiring a tutor but, as a new homeowner, can't afford the $35 an hour.

"I'm sure she's not the only kid up there who needs help," Washington said of Arden. "What about the kids that are underperforming at other schools? I have to question how money is being spent."


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