Students Swelling Schools

Overcrowding, Finances Place Burden On System

November 11, 1991|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

An influx of about 600 students above the projected enrollment for this year means class sizes -- and frustration -- is on the rise in the county school system.

School officials projected 1,200 additional students this year, but 1,800 showed up. The resulting overcrowding, combined with tight finances, is creating situations similar to that at South Shore Elementary, where 39 pupils sit in one fourth-grade classroom.

"Students just don't come in neat packages," said Principal Elizabeth Keifer, who has managed the situation at the Crownsville school by adding a full-time teacher's aide and using a conference room across the hall. "This year it was concentrated in the fourth-grade area.The teacher is experienced and, it is working, with the support of parents."

Parents like Rosemary Biggart, a representative of the school's Citizen Advisory Committee, brought the issue to the Board of Education during a meeting last month.

Biggart complained of a school with a leaky roof, inefficient and uneven heating system, small media center and scarce office space. In addition, the school has no access for the handicapped, and the electrical system is so overloadedthat computers and audio-visual equipment cannot be used.

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Cheryl Wilhoyte said she is aware of the problem. But economic realities on the state and local level are slowing down efforts.

"We recognize the need for additional space," Wilhoyte said. "We identified our needs in a meeting with the County Council. The challenge before us is to provide facilities for ourgrowing enrollment. We continue to project over a 1,000-student increase for the coming year. We will be working with state funding and local funding authorities to find solutions."

South Shore is not alone in having to make adjustments to manage students. The following elementary schools have enrollment figures above the recommended limits (the state and county use different figures in calculating capacity):

* High Point -- 852 students, with a state-rated capacity of 790, 664 using county guidelines. The school has five portable buildings and another on the way.

* Edgewater -- 507 students; 470 state capacity, 452 county; one portable classroom.

* Jacobsville -- 516 students; 485 state capacity, 399 county; one portable classroom.

* Meade Heights -- 287 students; 235 state capacity, 218 county; three portable classrooms have been added.

* Solley -- 149 students; 145 state capacity, 112 county; one portable classroom. Plans are under way to replace the small school by 1993 at the earliest.

Other schools, including South Shore, Fort Smallwood, Tracey's and Deale elementaries, are above county capacity. Each has added at least one portable.

School Planning Officer George Hatch said these schools already are on a list awaiting renovations. It may take at least 10 years to complete all of them, he said.

Hatch attributes some of the growth to students transferring from parochial and private schools because of the economy. He estimates next year's kindergarten class willexceed this year's by 2,000 students.

"When we are over capacity like this, a red flag goes up," Hatch said.

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