Parents Oppose Shifting Pupils To Macarthur

January 09, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

A parents group plans to oppose a school board decision to move sixth-grade students from overcrowded elementary schools in the Fort Meade area to MacArthur Middle School.

School administrators want to go ahead with the move although they do not have the property on whichto build a middle school in the Fort Meade area. Parents, however, say they fear the move will overcrowd MacArthur Middle and say all plans should be put on hold.

"Our children are not going to get the deal they originally thought," said Donna Rudd, a MacArthur parent. "They took away the pie. They don't even have the ground to put the building on. Who knows how long it is going to take?"

The 150 parents who met at MacArthur Middle Tuesday night want to present a united front to the school board,which meets Jan. 22. They voted to oppose moving any pupils until the completion of the new middle school -- which could be several yearsaway.

But the board has already decided to move the pupils this fall; the only issue before board members is whether separate staffs are needed for the current seventh-and eighth-grade students and for the incoming sixth-graders.

"The question is not whether sixth-grade students should be in a middle school," said Mary Smedley, a parentof a MacArthur student. "The question is whether MacArthur can accommodate the sixth-grade students. If we put more students in here, I think we will have a lot of unhappy parents."

The school board voted in fall 1990 to move sixth-grade students out of nine Fort Meade-area elementary schools into MacArthur. Jean Peterson, a member of the Citizens Advisory Council, said parents agreed because they were toldthe administration had land at Fort Meade to build a middle school. The CAC acts as a liaison between the Board of Education and schools.

The move to MacArthur would only be for about one year. When the new school was completed, about half of the sixth-graders would move out of MacArthur and into the new building, which will house approximately 800 sixth- through eight-grade students.

Last year, Petersonsaid, parents found out the school board did not have the land. Negotiations between Fort Meade and school officials are being held up because the Army may need to land for a new military school.

Many parents said they were concerned about staffing at MacArthur and whether the incoming sixth-graders would take programs and staff away from the current students. School officials who attended Tuesday's meetingsaid that no programs would be diminished and that staffing would increase to accommodate the extra children.

However, MacArthur wouldbe overcrowded, school officials said. The middle school currently has 972 students. That total is projected to go up to 1,573 with the addition of more than 550 sixth-grade students, which would put the school over county capacity by nearly 100.

Cheryl Wilhoyte, assistant superintendent of instruction and school administration, said MacArthur can handle the extra children, although some of the other elementaries cannot.

For example, Harman Elementary has a capacity of 439 pupils. Including sixth-graders, this year's enrollment is 602.

"It is important to look at the crowding issue at our elementary schools," Wilhoyte told the parents. "There is space at MacArthur to handle these people."

Ronald Beckett, assistant superintendent of support services for the county school system, said officials thought theproperty at Fort Meade was in hand, but "we never assumed we had it."

Beckett said Fort Meade is the preferred site, but if a decisionisn't made by early summer, the administration will construct the $13 million school on 30 acres it owns at Russett Center, a developmentbeing built in nearby Maryland City.

Once the land is secured, Beckett said, it will take about two years to build the school, assuming money is available.

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