Schools try to keep pace with growth Some face shortages of space and staff, high student-teacher ratios

Class size is a problem

Officials try to keep spending down as enrollment increases

September 23, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Parents at Oklahoma Road Middle School want to know why several classrooms sit empty while some upper-level math classes have 40 students.

At crowded Westminster West Middle School, every classroom is used and 12 portables have been added to accommodate students.

In the less developed Taneytown area, Northwest Middle School is about half full.

The contrast in Carroll's middle schools is the result of the rapid, uneven growth of the county, where elected officials try to keep taxes and spending down as enrollment goes up every year.

Parents are frustrated in the booming southeastern part of the county, where they have successfully lobbied to get schools built to relieve crowding, only to find that inside a classroom, things are still tight.

Susan Krebs said her daughter, Heather, has 38 students in her eighth-grade English class at Oklahoma Road. For the first two years of middle school, Heather was at the bulging Sykesville Middle while her parents lobbied state and local officials to build Oklahoma Road Middle.

"Now, she's actually worse off than she was in the overcrowded school," Krebs said.

School officials are juggling:

The need for building to keep up with growth in the three hot spots: southeast Carroll, North Carroll and Westminster. New middle schools are planned for Westminster and North Carroll to relieve crowding there.

The inevitability of changing school boundaries so that the schools with space relieve the crowded ones, although an outpouring of parent protest killed such an attempt two years ago. School officials are working on a plan that could include sending some Westminster children to New Windsor Middle School. The plan will be given to the school board this winter.

The struggle to staff schools at a 25-to-1 student-teacher ratio, although the reality in middle school is closer to 30-to-1. That struggle will only get worse because the County Commissioners are asking the schools to sacrifice some money to help pay for new schools in the next five years.

Oklahoma Road, for example, has space for more students, but not the staff, said Principal Larry Barnes. School planners had expected 716 students this fall, but it turned out to be 758. The additional 42 students were enough to drive up class sizes, but not enough to justify creating a separate team of teachers, Barnes said.

"We have room for six teams," said Barnes. "We have the staff for five teams."

Middle schools are divided into teams of five subject-area teachers and, at Oklahoma Road, about 150 students, which comes to a 30-to-1 student-teacher ratio, even though the system strives for a 25-to-1 ratio.

Math is the subject with the largest class sizes at Oklahoma Road, because of the way students are grouped. In all other subjects, students are divided as evenly as possible. But in math, they are divided by ability. Because there are more students in the middle- to upper-level group, those classes are larger while the lower-level classes are smaller.

Barnes said he has asked the central administration for an additional math teacher and part-time guidance counselor to handle the additional students. He hopes he will get the staff because his enrollment was higher than projected.

Krebs wants him to ask for more classroom teachers.

"Parents don't want to hear about a guidance counselor," she said. "Parents would prefer to have [more] teachers in the classrooms."

At other middle schools, principals who have classes with 30 or more students have not asked for more teachers: They know they won't get them.

"The class sizes are too high all over the county," said Donald Pyles, principal at Sykesville Middle School, where a few classes have about 40 students.

"There's only one way class size goes down, and that's with more teachers," Pyles said. "We have so many kids coming in, we just can't keep up. Just maintaining the status quo isn't going to do it."

Pyles faulted the County Commissioners for not increasing the operating budget enough to reduce the size of classes.

Until county residents make it clear they want more money to go to schools, class sizes won't go down, Pyles said.

"This is something people are going to have to be used to," he said.

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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