With a new school year beginning, many students face overcrowding

September 06, 1992|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

A decision last year to cut by half the pool of newly hired county teachers left many students facing overcrowded classrooms as they returned to school last week.

Bryant Woods kindergarten teacher Joan Lee-Powell found herself face to face with 33 youngsters the first week of school, 11 more than the recommended number.

Although the 25-year teaching veteran had the assistance of an instructional aide and student teacher, Ms. Lee-Powell said children were still robbed of individual attention, which is especially distressing for those just starting school.

"The first day of school there are tears, you want to be able to give them that time, that extra pat on the back," Ms. Lee-Powell said.

Bryant Woods PTA president Rita Alexander said that last week she received more than 20 calls from anxious parents.

"If somebody's acting up, who's going to be watching the other 25 children?" Ms. Alexander asked. "There's this concern about extra attention."

Last year, the emergency pool of eligible new teachers was cut from about 38 positions to about 16 to help balance the 1992-1993 operating budget, said James R. McGowan, associate superintendent of instruction and school administration.

The schools' growing enrollment is fueling the problem. About 1,300 more students are expected to enroll this year, bringing total county enrollment to 32,818, said schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan. Portable classrooms are being used to handle the shortage of space -- at Centennial High school, for example, four are in use.

But staffing is a more immediate problem in some places.

Although schools throughout the system have requested about 30 teachers from the pool, Ms. Caplan said, only 10.5 positions have been filled. The other six remain vacant in case of an emergency, school officials said.

The situation has prompted principals to undertake delicate balancing acts by moving students from over-enrolled classes and placing them in more sparsely populated ones, and shifting teachers from under-enrolled schools to those that are more crowded, like Laurel Woods Elementary in Laurel.

Columbia's Bryant Woods principal Susan Webster said parents must understand money is tight in the school system.

"Parents have to understand it's not a need we can fulfill right away," Ms. Webster said. "With education continually on the chopping block as far as money goes, it's a thing you come to expect."

K? Larger kindergarten classes have also boosted enrollment at

elementary schools.

Some of the problems are temporary.

The overcrowded kindergarten at Bryant Woods, for example, will disappear when it receives a second teacher from the pool possibly by this week, Ms. Webster said.

L "We feel lucky we didn't have to rob anyone of a teacher."

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