Public's demand for private schools thriving in region Parents seeking slots despite annual costs of as much as $10,000

March 26, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

At Loyola High School, an imposing, stone-fronted boys school outside Towson, 420 youngsters applied for 110 spots in next year's ninth-grade class.

Miles south, in Annapolis, the Key School still is receiving 30 calls a day from families who want to apply, though it's late in the application cycle.

And at a bus stop in western Carroll County, 18 youngsters wait each weekday for a bus to coeducational McDonogh School's rolling campus near Owings Mills, up from just five a few years ago.

By any measure, the demand for private education is surging.

Parents willing to spend as much as $10,000 on tuition, even for one year of elementary school, are creating boom towns at parochial and independent schools around the metropolitan area and, indeed, throughout the nation.

In September 1994, 78,900 students attended nonpublic schools in the city and five surrounding counties, up from 53,600 four years earlier, according to statistics from the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, a regional planning group.

Schools in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, which account for nearly three-fourths of the area's private school enrollment, added more than 12,000 students over that period, boosting the total to 52,000.

But the most dramatic growth has been in Howard County, where private school enrollment grew from 2,200 to 7,000 in the four years, and in Carroll, where enrollment doubled to about 1,600.

"The growth at Key has been explosive in the last five years," said Headmaster Ronald Goldblatt. The school has 570 students and a waiting list -- up from 400 youngsters in nursery school through 12th grade four or five years ago.

Across Maryland "there are historic levels of interest," added Mr. Goldblatt, who also is president of the Association of Independent Maryland Schools. "Parents are turning to us with much more frequency. I'm not sure that I know completely why."

Directors of admission, heads of these schools and demographers have some of the reasons. Parents have others.

Bruce and Mindee Block are products of public schools, here and in New York state. She is a former middle school teacher and volunteered regularly at Glyndon Elementary, where her daughters attended.

He headed the PTA. Despite the Blocks' affinity for public schools -- and the fact that they live in a district with some of Baltimore County's best schools -- their three daughters now attend private Garrison Forest.

"It was crowded and getting more crowded," Mr. Block said of Glyndon. "The teachers were overwhelmed. It was really obvious that if you needed help in math, you were not going to get it. You were a number."

Three years ago, the Owings Mills residents moved their middle daughter, Lacey, to second grade at Garrison Forest, an all-girls school on Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills. The next September, Jenna started first grade there and Shelby went to sixth.

Even with the Garrison Forest tuition that ranges from $6,500 to $10,000, depending on the grade, Mr. Block sees no downside. He's thrilled with the academic program, the class size and the feeling of family. "It's more than just going to school and coming home."

In Carroll County, the Serio family faced a similar situation. "Our biggest concern was the lack of individual attention that could be given them in the public schools," said Kim Serio, who lives in Mount Airy.

Her oldest children, Paul and Brittany, attended kindergarten in Carroll County public schools, and although "I loved all the teachers," the classes were too large and the needs of the youngsters too diverse.

Now, Rachel is in "pre-first" -- a class between kindergarten and first grade; Brittany and Paul are in third and fourth grades, respectively, at McDonogh; and Taylor is heading to kindergarten next year.

Part of the growth in private school enrollment is sheer numbers -- of students, schools, and dollars and cents.

Nationwide, the population of school-age children is up markedly from the 1980s and will remain high into the next century. Meanwhile, the incomes of upper-middle-class families, those who traditionally have sent their children to private schools, are growing at a greater rate than the incomes of other segments of the population.

New schools are springing up, too. The Archdiocese of Baltimore, which includes Central and Western Maryland, opened Woodmont Academy, its first new Catholic school in many years, in Baltimore County near the borders with Howard and Carroll counties.

Archdiocesan officials are studying the need for more schools, given full houses and a waiting list of 2,500 students.

A group of parents of children with learning disabilities opened the Odyssey School in Roland Park in September 1994, and the school already is looking for larger quarters. Parents in Harford County are trying to establish a similar school.

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