Balto. Co. school crowding persists Building moratorium triggered in areas of two elementaries

January 07, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Despite an aggressive school expansion program, Baltimore County's efforts to eliminate overcrowding in elementary schools fell short this school year, forcing the county to continue its homebuilding moratorium in two west side communities.

Officials had hoped to eliminate the moratorium -- for the first time since the law was enacted in 1990 -- but high enrollment figures have triggered it around Hebbville and Chadwick elementaries.

The continued crowding in west side communities, combined with delayed renovations at other schools, has led some county parents to call for a broader moratorium law that would apply to all schools, not just elementaries.

"We still believe there's something needed here," PTA Council President Linda Olszewski said. "I don't think the [crowding] issue is ever going to go away until there's no land left."

The county law bans new homes around elementary schools that are more than 20 percent over capacity and have no plan for relief in sight.

Such crowding has been reduced significantly over the past three years by a vigorous school construction campaign.

In the first three years of the law, an average of 13 schools were crowded enough to trigger the moratorium. Last year, only two schools hit that level.

The delay in building an addition for Hebbville Elementary, near Liberty Road and the Beltway, has forced it onto the moratorium list. Nearby Chadwick Elementary in the Woodlawn area returned to the list after a 100-seat addition built three years ago was overwhelmed.

Three other county elementaries are more than 20 percent over capacity, but are kept off the moratorium list by planned construction or by empty seats at adjacent schools, county officials say. Under the law, solid plans for construction, or available space in an adjoining school district, can keep a crowded elementary off the list.

Johnnycake and Shady Spring elementaries, which triggered the moratorium in 1996, are scheduled for additions -- though Shady Spring's addition is being delayed. Deer Park Elementary's addition is also being delayed, but a planned school in Owings Mills will keep it off the moratorium list.

Some parents at Deer Park, which is 25 percent over capacity with a surplus of 107 students, are upset at the new delay and uncertainty.

"I'm furious, and my teachers are furious," Lisa Cohen, president of Deer Park's PTA, said on hearing that the 100-seat addition won't open as planned in August.

"Our school has been overcrowded for a long time," she said. "We were really pleased we were finally going to get something )) we asked for."

County officials say the Deer Park and Hebbville additions will be vTC built, but they need time to find the $1.1 million needed for each project, and to weigh the cost of construction against future enrollment and maintenance expenses.

New enrollment projections due next month are expected to forecast a countywide decline. That could allow officials to scale back, delay or cancel planned additions, said Michael H. Davis, spokesman for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

"Deer Park and Hebbville are going to happen," Davis said, though they might be delayed until January 1999.

Gary W. Hilleary, principal of Shady Spring, was surprised to learn that his school's addition is being delayed. He has six portable classrooms, but he approves of county efforts to check enrollment projections before spending mon- ey on renovations.

Olszewski also said county officials should not proceed with additions if they're not sure of enrollments. "It's really hard when you're on the list and then you're off the list," she said. "But we need to be sure of what we're doing."

No easy solution exists for Chadwick, the county's most crowded elementary. Enrollment exceeds capacity by 169 students.

The school, west of Security Square Mall, has a four-room addition, a one-classroom portable and a two-room modular unit. But with more than 700 homes and apartments built nearby over the past decade, the county had no quick fix there, said budget analyst Valerie Roddy.

New countywide enrollment projections are being prepared by William DeJong, a consultant hired by the school board.

After years of steeply declining enrollments and school closings in the late 1970s and early 1980s, county enrollment rose from 80,630 in 1986 to 105,520 now -- an increase equal to the size of the Carroll County school system.

Pub Date: 1/07/98

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