Enrollment rise may mean new Catholic school Number of students expected to increase for 5 more years

November 02, 1995|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

An expected spurt in enrollment at Roman Catholic schools in Anne Arundel County could lead to construction of a new school for kindergarten through eighth grade in Odenton or Davidsonville, according to a panel studying needs of Catholic schools.

"There is clearly an expressed demand for school space that is not available," said Milton D. Finch, chairman of the Anne Arundel County Catholic Schools Task Force.

From 1990 to this year, the enrollment in Anne Arundel's Catholic schools jumped to 4,926 students from 4,002, according to the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The number is expected to increase to 5,120 by 2000 but begin dropping off after that until it slips below 1995 figures by 2020.

Mr. Finch said the figures compelled task force members to consider whether to expand schools, lease buildings for classroom space or place students in portable classrooms.

A new school might be the best option to alleviate not only the projected crowding problems, but also the bulging waiting lists at county Catholic schools, he said.

"Everything we are hearing and seeing informally is that there are a significant number of people out there who are saying that they want to put their kids in Catholic schools and they can't," Mr. Finch said. "In an ideal situation, most of us would think a new school would be the best way to go."

He said task force members will share their figures and options with parents at three workshops in November.

The first meeting will be Monday at Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville.

A second workshop will be Nov. 14 at Holy Family in Davidsonville.

The final session will be Nov. 29 at St. Bernadette's in Severn. All meetings are at 7:30 p.m.

Sister Linda Larsen, principal of St. John the Evangelist, a school for kindergarten through eighth grade in Severna Park, said the ratio of 30 students for each teacher at her school is too high and should be reduced to 27-to-1.

Fifty-eight more children on a waiting list might never move off it, she said.

"I do know that I receive lots of requests from parents [in Davidsonville] to enroll their children in our school because there is no facility south of us," Sister Linda said. "The solution is perhaps they do need to build a school there."

The possibility of a new Catholic school does not bother county public school officials, who note that public school enrollment also is expected to rise over the next five years.

"There's room for private, parochial and public schools," said Nancy Jane Adams, a spokeswoman for the public school system. "There are plenty of students for all three types of schools. I don't see the opening of a new school as a major drain on public school attendance."

Mr. Finch said the task force is wary of committing archdiocese funds to construction because of the projected decline in the number of Catholic school students after 2000 and the three- to four-year wait to open a new school.

"A Catholic school is around for a long time," he said. "The question in our mind is are there any other options besides building a new school and waiting two, three, or four years for it to open?"

Mr. Finch attributed the projected growth to an increase in Catholic families in the area, the desire of non-Catholic parents for the discipline and structure of Catholic schools and efforts to avoid crowded public schools.

Barbara H. Schwitzer, principal of Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, said 30 percent of the students at her school are non-Catholic and that the numbers grow every year.

"I think the strong moral values part is a strong issue," Mrs. Schwitzer said. "And you can't minimize the importance of violence in schools. We have maybe one fight a year here. I would not send my child to a school where I'd have to be concerned about their safety."

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