Faced with overcrowding in 80 of the county's 120 schools, the County Council has agreed to spend $1.5 million next month for 18 portableclassrooms to handle a predicted flood of new students next fall.
School officials told lawmakers at a briefing yesterday that enrollments are expected to increase by 2,660 students next year and by 12,000 students in the next eight years, raising the student population 78,000 by the year 2000.
With state money for school construction drying up, school officials say they have little choice but to look to portables as a short-term solution.
School officials have asked County Executive Robert R. Neall for $22.7 million in capital spending this year to plan for school additions, buy portable classrooms and new school furniture, and to renovate dozens of buildings to deal with the expected enrollment increases.
But C. Berry Carter, acting superintendent, told thecouncil the school system needs the $1.5 million quickly, so that the portable classrooms can be purchased and in place by next September.
The school board will need another $1.3 million next year for 17more portables for the fall of 1993, Carter said. A total of 27 schools will need portable classrooms if student teacher ratios remain atcurrent levels, he said.
"The kids just keep coming in."
Council Chairman David Boschert said he asked for yesterday's meeting withthe board to go over mutual concerns about school computer equipmentneeds, enrollment projections and portable classrooms.
"We just felt it would be best to open a dialogue and to keep it open, so that there aren't any surprises over the budget or other fiscal matters," Boschert said.
Council members agreed to consider the board's request for the portable classrooms at its two meetings next month and Boschert said there appears to be a consensus toward approval. But somecounty officials at yesterday's session encouraged the board to consider other options, such as school redistricting.
"When you have 27 places where you need (portable classrooms), you have to talk aboutredistricting," said council auditor Joseph Novotny. "I'm saying that somewhere we need a long-range plan, we have to look at more efficient use of schools."
Carter said that redistricting plans in the past have led to community protests so stormy it is as if "we were asking these kids to go to school in Siberia."
Years ago, one plan proved to be so unpopular that the council passed a resolution encouraging the board to retain neighborhood schools wherever possible.
"When you talk about redistricting, you're talking about a very emotionally packed issue," said board member Nancy Gist.
Council members yesterday also discussed a board plan to purchase a $1.7 million computer system to handle student information, report cards, bookkeeping and payroll data.
Board members said that the current school computer system is so overloaded and out of date that it is often difficult to perform basic functions, like getting paychecks distributed to the board's 7,000 employees.
"Right now, we're over a cliff, hanging by our fingernails. We are barely meeting payroll," said board member Tom Twombley.
But Jo Ann Tollenger, board president, said that Neall is resisting approval of the computer purchase because he wantsto merge the school's computer operations with the county's.
She said that conflicts with the recommendations of a Florida consultant,who said that the school system's needs were specialized enough to warrant an independent system.