Transfer of students could risk state funds Plan to ease crowding may delay new school

March 24, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

A proposal to transfer 230 Westminster West Middle students to Northwest Middle School in Taneytown could stall a more permanent solution to crowded schools: a new middle school in Westminster.

A hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at the West Middle cafeteria, and the school board will vote by the end of April. School officials have been getting many calls and expect a large crowd tonight.

The affected families live in the Greens, Whispering Meadows and Pleasant Valley subdivisions in Westminster. Most of them are in the Westminster city limits. Many have complained that they don't want their children going to a different city for middle school.

School officials are ambivalent about their own redistricting proposal for another reason: Alleviating crowding at West Middle could jeopardize the county's only argument for the state to pay half the cost of constructing a new middle school in Westminster.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Vernon Smith, director of school support services for Carroll County schools. If the students are not redistricted, the crowding will grow worse, he said.

"We're only doing this as a temporary solution," Mr. Smith said of the redistricting propos- al. "I look at the long range what are we going to do with 1,680 students at West Middle in the year 2001? That's 700 kids in portables."

West Middle built for a capacity of 995 has 1,289 students. The entire seventh grade is housed in 12 portable classrooms. The school's enrollment grows by an average 50 students a year.

At Northwest Middle, growth trends indicate that enrollment will peak at 533 students by 2002.

That would still put the school at 240 students below its capacity.

Westminster enrollment could justify another middle school by 2001, but the project is not scheduled for funding by the county (with the assumption the state would contribute its share) until 2003. The state generally pays about 50 percent of the construction costs of a new school.

Mr. Smith said that he has discussed the dilemma over whether to temporarily redistrict with Yale Stenzler, executive director for the state Interagency Committee for Public School Construction. That committee makes recommendations to the state Board of Public Works about which schools to help build.

"I called and said, 'Yale, if we do this, is this going to jeopardize the status of the Westminster middle school?' His response was, 'Yes, it may,' " Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith said that alleviating the crowding now could cause a delay in state funding, even if it doesn't rule out state assistance completely.

The state decides school building capital grants year by year.

"It will be up to us in Carroll County to convince the state that the only reason we did this is we're in a desperate situation," Mr. Smith said. "It will be a challenge."

The students who would be moved live either inside the Westminster city limits or closer to Westminster than to Taneytown. Some parents are resistant to moving students to Taneytown because it has one of the highest poverty rates in Carroll County.

On the other hand, some parents who live in the Hughes Shop Road area have made a different request from school officials: If their children are going to Northwest Middle, then at least let them continue on to Francis Scott Key High School, where the majority of Northwest students go.

Northwest Middle has been below capacity for years, but until this year, the extra space was used by Taneytown Elementary students while their school was being enlarged.

Taneytown students moved back into their building in September.

County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said the dilemma is the result of poor planning on the part of local and state officials, who let residential development outpace school capacity.

"The philosophy has been that it's good to build homes and attract more families so long as we pray real hard for state funding," Mr. Brown said.

Before the state will approve money for a new school, the existing schools have to meet a formula: Overenrollment has to be 50 percent of the capacity of the proposed new school.

"If we play the game the way the state is set up, it requires a generation of students to be in severely overcrowded schools," Mr. Brown said.

The county has raised the piggyback tax to generate money for building four elementary schools and two middle schools.

Pub Date: 3/24/96

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