Parents got no meaningful voice on middle school plan, PTA head says

March 13, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel's PTA president says the county waited too long to give parents a voice on a proposal to shrink the size of future middle schools.

"I do not want parents to feel railroaded, and I will not be part of it," PTA President Esther Parker said last night before attending a briefing for parents by the committee that designed the proposal.

Twenty-eight parents attended the session at school system headquarters, where the board is expected to vote on the plan Wednesday. "When you start doing the briefing," Parker said, "it's been done."

At issue are what school planners refer to as educational specifications -- the size, number and use of rooms in schools. The proposal unveiled March 5 would shrink the size of future middle schools from 116,715 square feet of space for 900 students to 91,415 square feet and 810 students.

It would save about $5 million in construction costs, officials say.

The plan is being developed at a hurried pace because of budget considerations. The school board wants to get enough information to decide on new middle schools for north county and south county children. Size and cost are major factors.

The information has to get to county officials before the end of the month to be incorporated in the capital budget.

Parker said the accelerated pace has left less than two weeks for parents to study and comment on a new design. Parents were not brought in during the early stages, she said.

"There was inadequate time to bring in parents," said school facilities chief Ralph Luther. "It doesn't give you a lot of time, I understand."

A middle school principal who asked not to be named said earlier yesterday that principals also have not seen the new design. They do not know, for example, if there would be enough rooms to accommodate small groups with special needs, such as language therapy. But the committee that designed the new specifications, which included two middle school principals, said last night there is adequate room.

Specifications adopted by the school board will affect other areas in the future. The number of children in the Arundel High feeder system in the western county and the Northeast High feeder system in the east continues to increase.

The specifications formerly used for middle school construction provided for areas in common use, such as a cafeteria, to be oversized so that a 380-student wing could be added. The proposed change cannot accommodate more students, although larger versions of the same school could be built.

Given the track record of the system in projecting the number of students and the inability to expand schools built with the proposed plan, county officials "would be crazy to give you the money" for the smaller design, said Michael Fox, countywide Citizen Advisory Committee chairman.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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