The county "is at the forefront of implementing the common core curriculum so that all children will be college and work force ready," Hairston said.
The school system's curriculum specialists are now adapting the county's old curriculum to fit into the state's new common core framework. The process involves adding or altering material to be taught so that the county and state plans are aligned.
But in language arts, the specialists are not adapting the version of the curriculum that the county just paid to rewrite. Instead they are using the older version, taught in schools today, that the new curriculum was supposed to replace, according to Roger Plunkett, chief of curriculum and instruction. He said using the old curriculum allows the system to keep as many of the existing books and programs as possible, thus saving money.
School officials wanted to buy new books to match the two new curricula.
So the school board approved the purchase of the 1983 version of the "English Language Skills" grammar textbook in February 2010, and the system ordered about 45,000 copies at a cost of $49 each for every student in grades six through 12. School officials saved money by leaving out sections that weren't needed when they ordered the one-time reprint. Workbooks for teachers and students were thrown in free by the publisher.
Jay Diskey, executive director of the school division of the Association of American Publishers, said such a reprint can "occur from time to time" but is unusual.
"I don't think it is exactly common to reprint textbooks from 1983. It is something I don't hear a lot about," he said.
The textbook, which Hairston said had been modernized with some new illustrations and cultural references, arrived in the summer of 2010. But because of an error in the books, according to Hairston, they were sent back to the publisher to be fixed for free. School system officials say the books were returned to the warehouse and sat for a year.
Hairston, who is leaving at the end of the school year when his contract expires, said the central office staff decided to delay the release of the reprinted grammar textbook until the linguistics curriculum could be aligned with the common core standards.
Some administrators and parents questioned whether such an old book should be ordered. In most cases, it is difficult to obtain extra copies of a book no longer in print if some are lost or damaged and need to be replaced.
"With the pace of change in how we communicate through written means and the Internet, I can't imagine an outdated 27-year-old book would be of much value to anyone," said Mary Ellen Pease, a parent of a recent graduate of the Baltimore County school system who has pushed school leaders to offer a broader array of courses.
According to school system documents, the board also spent $500,000 on two writing books, one for high school and one for middle school, as well as $600,000 for new novels. And it approved $1.4 million for new middle school language arts anthologies and $300,000 for the "Little, Brown Handbook," a writing and grammar textbook that was intended to be used as a reference book for teachers.
But the new language arts curriculum was never put into effect, and many of the books are sitting in a warehouse, on storage shelves in schools or in the back of classrooms, according to three teachers in middle and high schools and several central office administrators.
Novels were purchased for high school that teachers describe as good literature, but that don't often fit into their current lesson plans.
Copies of "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens, "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams and "Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf landed in high schools, but most aren't currently taught at that level.
School board member Ramona Johnson expressed concern at Tuesday's board meeting that 8,000 copies of "Mrs. Dalloway" had been purchased at what she called a "substantial" expense, but that the book was more appropriate for college. Documents show the school system paid $120,111 for the novels. An administrator at the board meeting told her the system might try to send the books back to the publisher.
The effort to rewrite curricula and to purchase books was spearheaded in part by Barbara Dezmon, who was then an assistant superintendent. Dezmon, who has retired, came under fire last year for an online grading program she helped to create with school system employees.
Hairston gave her the copyright that would allow her to eventually market the online Articulated Instruction Module, or AIM, to other districts and individually profit from the program. State lawmakers questioned the ethics of that agreement.