School closings could draw opposition

Enrollment declining on Balto. Co.'s east side

April 01, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Closing elementary schools on Baltimore County's east side could be a tough sell among county politicians as educators begin looking at whether to shut down underused buildings.

"They will have to do a lot of persuading," said County Council member John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat. "I wouldn't want people to think that schools might be closed because of all of the years that the east side had been neglected."

County school officials said last week that they plan to review the school system's enrollment and begin considering in the fall whether some schools should be closed in the southeastern area.

While schools are full -- and at times crowded -- in the western, northwestern and northeastern areas of Baltimore County, enrollment in areas such as Dundalk and Edgemere is shrinking. Many schools in that southeast region have excess capacity.

Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione said last week that elementary schools are the most likely targets, with the first ones perhaps being closed by fall 2000.

This month, the school board will consider updating its guidelines on how to decide whether to close schools. The policy hasn't changed since the late 1970s, when the system was closing 23 schools across the county because of low enrollment.

"It wasn't a very pleasant experience at that time," recalled Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Democrat representing Dundalk and Rosedale. "I'm a great believer in neighborhood elementary schools because these are little kids, so it will take a lot to convince me that we should be closing any neighborhood schools and busing those kids some place else."

East-side politicians said they weren't surprised to hear that the school system would consider closing schools in their area.

"It's been rumored for the past couple of years that a school like Bear Creek [Elementary] was going to close," said Del. Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick, a Democrat representing Dundalk and Rosedale. "It's unfair that it's happening in our area, but it is a fact of life that young couples are not coming in here to raise their kids."

The political leaders said they're skeptical about whether the schools need to be closed, and plan to talk to school officials when the system reopens after spring vacation.

"If they can demonstrate that the schools need to be closed through lengthy discussions and hearings, then I think people will accept that," said Sen. Michael J. Collins, a Democrat representing Essex.

Both Olszewski and Stone suggested that smaller enrollment might give the schools more freedom to reduce class sizes.

"If we want to cut class sizes, wouldn't we want to have extra space in the schools so there would be room for more teachers?" Olszewski said.

If schools were closed, the elected officials said they would fight for the school buildings to remain open -- perhaps as centers for the Police Athletic League or the Department of Recreation and Parks.

"These schools are essential to the community," Minnick said. "I would hope that they would remain that way, even if one or two end up being closed."

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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