Bowing to pressure from parents, school board members looking for a 20-year plan to deal with crowded classrooms and a shifting student population inside the county have decided against considering the closing of two north county elementary schools.
Superintendent Carol S. Parham had recommended closing Belle Grove and Ferndale elementaries and moving students to other schools as part of a long-range strategy to match classroom space with student enrollment.
But dozens of parents from both schools attended a public hearing on the matter last week, then crowded a board meeting Wednesday night. They told board members that they wanted to keep their children in neighborhood schools.
With little debate, the entire board except for Vaughn Brown voted against asking Parham to develop a closing plan for the two schools.
Before the vote, Brown pointed out that the two elementary schools' enrollment will drop when sixth-graders are shifted to the new Brooklyn Park Middle School, scheduled to open in fall 2000.
"We have to address a very serious situation," he said. "Those elementary schools will drop to 67 percent utilization and that is the lowest in the county."
Board member Janet Bury countered by saying older families moving out of the community are being replaced by those with children who will need those schools.
"Both of these neighborhoods are in transition," she said. "And until both have a chance to stabilize, we should not do anything that in five years we are going to have to change again."
"I am so excited," said Lori Schuessler, whose daughter attends Ferndale. "We really expected them to keep trying to close us."
In the days before the meeting, Schuessler and other parents collected 2,000 signatures in support of keeping the schools open.
Students also wrote letters to Parham.
"I got my sixth-grade class to write letters," said Megan Cramer, a Ferndale pupil. "I don't want the school to close. My sister goes to that school, and I don't want her to go anywhere else."
The board agreed to have school planners study the rest of Parham's plan, which generally followed the recommendations of an independent consultant who predicted severe crowding at some schools over the next 20 years because of uneven countywide development.
According to the consultant's report presented to the school board in February, 23,700 county high school students will attend 12 schools in 2007 (which is 1,400 more than in 1997), but the number will decline to 21,800 10 years later.
Middle school enrollment will follow the same pattern, peaking at 19,110 by the 2007 school year and then declining to 19,050 in 2017.
If Parham and the board ignore these predictions, students in at least three high schools and two middle schools would attend classes in split shifts for as long as 10 years, the consultant said.
Parham called for the eventual redistricting of about 600 middle and high school students as well as an undetermined number of elementary school children.
Most of the cost in Parham's plan comes from construction, including 400-seat additions at North County High School in Linthicum and Southern Middle School in Edgewater.
Chesapeake Bay Middle School, with an enrollment of about 1,700, would be divided into two middle schools. The board also decided Wednesday night to review a plan to renovate Marley Middle.
Parham called for a new Marley Middle School in Glen Burnie but did not include such a school in her plan's $27 million cost estimate.
In addition, she did not propose a 13th high school, a popular idea among parents in the western part of the county who do not want their children shifted to schools outside the area.
Pub Date: 6/18/99