Crowded Schools Posing Big Dilemma

March 14, 1991|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

Edgewater Elementary principal Nora Long is trying to manage the overload of students at her school, restricted now to only neighborhood students because of the excess over county capacity.

Her dilemma is compounded, however, because the school is still below -- but nearing -- the maximum number of students recommended by the state.

Already, some third-grade classes have as many as 31 students. And next year more are expected at a time when state and county money has to be stretched.

"We have no other space to put another third-grade class," Long said. "It's more work for teachers, but overall thepicture is not bad. We're making do."

School officials are projecting 1,500 additional students in county schools next year, overcrowding some schools where parents and teachers are already frustrated.

That number probably will double in the following school year, and on-going development is expected to increase enrollment for the next 10 years.

If the projections of school officials are correct, there is little relief in sight beyond the year 2000.

Elementary schools will be the hardest-hit with three schools -- Meade Heights, Solley and Edgewater -- expected to be filled beyond state capacity next year.

And High Point Elementary, with 740 students, has surpassed its county-set capacity of 664 students.

In addition, new county Board of Education standards have set the ideal size of elementary schools at 450 students.

The board's problem in dealing with increasing enrollment is twofold: County capacity figures are lower than those established by the state, and the process to justify money for additions or new schools is slow and costly at a time when the board is asked to do more with less.

The state, for instance, determines elementary school size by a 30-to-1 student-teacher ratio as opposed to the county's 27-to-1 ratio.

Mike Raible, director of planning and construction, says that the difference in ratios slows down the process of building or expanding schools, which normally takes two to three years.

"We're not battling the issue," Raible said. "We've just agreed to disagree."

Although the county's adequate public facilities law allows school officials to block proposed developments because of overcrowded schools, the officials complain schools frequently are past capacity before they can make such a recommendation. The problem, Raible said, is that the law is based on state's student-to-teacher ratio.

The board's track record with the county planning and zoning office has been good, Raible said.

With very few exceptions,he said, the county has turned down developments in areas where schools are overcrowded.

Pockets of the county, including the Broadneck peninsula and West County and South County, are already under closewatch for growth by the school system. County and school officials have agreed to collect impact fees for schools from developers building in the Meade, Arundel, Broadneck and Northeast high school feeder systems. That money will be used to help expand schools in those areasto accommodate new students.

Growth in the Southern High feeder system, especially at Southern Middle which serves the entire South County area, is rapidly becoming a problem, school officials say. Elementary schools in the Chesapeake High feeder system are also becoming overcrowded. But the school system has only recently asked that impact fees be collected, Raible said.

"I'm projecting that Southern Middle will be overcrowded in the next two years," Raible said.

"Anydeveloper coming in for review would be denied. We would advise thatthere is no capacity in the Southern feeder system.

"The way to accommodate them (students) is to build additional space to the building. However, if impact fees are not collected in the area, or if the development is already approved, they (developers) do not contribute to the amount needed for new students they are bringing in."

In the Chesapeake feeder system, Jacobsville Elementary will exceed the state capacity next school year, and Lake Shore, Fort Smallwood and Pasadena elementary schools will surpass county capacity levels.

On the high school level, Old Mill will be above the county school capacity with 2,093 students next year -- 11 percent under the state guidelines.

In addition to construction costs, officials point out that each additional student requires money for teachers, furniture and material.

And in a period of cutbacks and tight budgets, money that in better economic times went toward new programs was targeted toward65 additional teaching positions.

In addition, the school board boosted the amount for school furniture from $500,000 to $700,000.

"The budget addressed the (enrollment) increase," board president Nancy Gist said. "We understand the financial climate with the county. Our budget did address the projection needs. Whatever the student population, the faculty will have to be commensurate in order to maintainthose services."

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