Crowded schools face ugly choices Committee makes varied suggestions

April 07, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Also, a box listing proposals by the Anne Arundel school system's "Ugly Alternatives" committee on dealing with

expected school crowding omitted the determination that South River High School has enough capacity to handle projected enrollment increases.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

Anne Arundel County schools already are so crowded, and will become so much more so in the next seven years, that some may have to resort to extended days, split sessions or year-round schooling.

That gloomy conclusion is the work of a committee charged by the Board of Education with heading off what could become a serious crowding problem in the next few years.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"It became apparent last year that growth is coming, and coming fast, and we aren't going to be able to accommodate it, and we can't build our way out of it," said Ronald L. Beckett, assistant superintendent for county schools. "Many things that will remedy the situation are going to be things that are not very popular."

Hence the nickname of the Superintendent's Task Force on Facility Needs -- the Ugly Alternatives Committee. Task force members are scheduled to present enrollment projections, as well as their recommendations on how to cope with crowded schools, to the Board of Education today.

Details of the report were released to the news media yesterday, and they don't paint an optimistic picture. The worst fate was projected for high schools in the western part of the county -- extended days and split sessions -- could be in store if a new one isn't built and opened by 1996. The new school would draw students from North County, Glen Burnie, Old Mill and Arundel senior high schools.

But milder recommendations -- such as redistricting and shuffling grades between schools to maximize unused space -- are likely to be just as unpopular. The redistricting process, in which school attendance boundaries are redrawn, always breeds controversy -- just look at Annapolis, where the move toward neighborhood-based schools, with its accompanying redistricting, has ruffled more than a few feathers.

The committee's recommendations are based on two assumptions: that the current student-teacher ratios and small classes must be maintained to ensure the quality of education, and that the school system will have to live with at least some crowding.

The committee's report, for example, concedes that each middle and high school will remain at 20 percent above student capacity for a time, and that elementary school enrollments will be about 15 percent over each school's capacity.

Even so, the Arundel feeder system -- the set of middle and elementary schools whose students eventually attend Arundel High School -- would be among the hardest hit by the influx of students.

Enrollment at Arundel High is expected to reach 1,864 students next fall, according to school board statistics -- about 14 percent more students than the 1,629 the school can hold comfortably. By 2002, school board planners project, enrollment will be 2,358 -- about 44 percent (729 students) over capacity.

As a result, the committee predicts, "at some point prior to the opening of the West County High School, Arundel Senior High will be forced to an extended day or split sessions schedule."

Enrollment next fall at Crofton Middle School, whose students go on to Arundel, is projected to be 937 students, 22 percent over the school's capacity of 765. By 2002, enrollment at Crofton Middle is expected to be 1,153 students -- 55 percent over capacity.

The story repeats itself at the elementary level. By next fall, Odenton Elementary is expected to have 512 students -- 11 percent more than the school's capacity of 461 students. And the scenario is much the same throughout the county's other 11 feeder systems.

Of the county's 120 public schools, 47 are crowded: 38 elementaries, five middle schools and four high schools. Ninety portable classrooms are in use around the county, with 35 more on order for the fall.

By 2001, county enrollment projections show there could be as many as 66 crowded schools. Eleven of the 12 county highs schools would be severely crowded unless something is done soon.

"It's going to be a tough decade for education," said Alison Ekstrom, a member of the Ugly Alternatives Committee.

"What's amazing to me as a parent is that people may be aware of a space crunch in some schools, but they really aren't aware of the demands placed on the whole school system. We have to get them mobilized."

"UGLY ALTERNATIVES" RECOMMENDATIONS

ANNAPOLIS

1. Return Bywater students to the Annapolis feeder system.

If projected enrollments exceed capacity,consider reopening Adams Park Elementary School and moving the Learning Center.

3. Redistrict for the two middle schools.

ARUNDEL

1. Consider extended day or split session schedule for the high school.

2. Adjust boundaries between Crofton and Arundel middle schools.

3. Consider year-round school once all buildings are air-conditioned.

BROADNECK

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