The new math of student enrollments School capacity question can't ignore child care transfers.

March 01, 1996

AS CARROLL COUNTY'S schools fill beyond their intended capacity, parents are beginning to worry that their children may be redistricted to nearby schools to alleviate overcrowding. Such a concern recently prompted parents whose children attend Spring Garden Elementary in Hampstead to ask for a ban on students who live outside the school's attendance area.

The parents raised several important issues. They are unhappy that the current policy is rather broad and allows out-of-district transfers as long as "enough" room exists at the school. Spring Garden has space for the 56 out-of-district children only because it has 10 portable classrooms. Parents ask whether it is right to include these portables in determining whether the school has enough space? If they are included, then the number of portables at any school can be increased. There would be no limit to the number of students. If these portables are not counted, then many of the county's crowded elementary schools will have to stop allowing out-of-district transfers.

That would cause protest, too. Generally, after-school child care is what's driving the out-of-district attendance. With the prevalence of two-income families, parents need their children to attend schools where they will go for after-school care and where they can be picked up easily on the commute home. That may be reason why schools such as Sandymount, which is off Route 140 in Finksburg, has 93 children -- one-sixth its total contingent -- coming from outside its attendance area.

The school board is in a bind. It seems unfair that students could be redistricted out of their neighborhood schools because of a large number of out-of-district students. At the same time, flat prohibitions against out-of-district children seems unfeasible. The most equitable strategy is to "grandfather" children already in the school and in the future, allow only out-of-district students who can be accommodated by counting the non-portable classrooms.

As the system designs future schools, its projections of student populations must include the capacities of day care centers (even a gauge of unlicensed ones.) If schools are built to accommodate out-of-district students, parents of Spring Garden students wouldn't have to ask for such draconian measures.

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