City board acts to shut 9 schools

Parents, teachers crowd into meeting for vote on closings

March 14, 2001|By Liz Bowie and Erika Niedowski | Liz Bowie and Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school board voted last night to close nine neighborhood schools, acting for the first time in decades to address the loss of thousands of students and the half-empty buildings they left behind.

The board decided to close seven schools at the end of this school year, one at the end of next school year and another in 2003. The board deferred until next spring a decision to close three other schools.

"We have an obligation to run this system efficiently," school board chairman J. Tyson Tildon told more than 250 parents, teachers and principals who jammed last night's meeting.

Unused space in school buildings - and projections of a continued decline in the city's student enrollment - has made it necessary to close some buildings, he said.

As a condition of providing more school construction money, state education officials have pressured the financially strapped city school system to streamline its physical plant to conform to today's student enrollment. Baltimore has an estimated 98,292 pupils in school buildings that could serve 131,000.

In acting last night, the school board adopted all but one of the recommendations of Carmen V. Russo, the system's chief executive officer. Russo wanted to close Edgewood Elementary at the end of the current school year.

Her recommendations were based largely on a consultant's study, issued in September, that analyzed the capacity and condition of each of the more than 180 schools in the district.

"When you do something like this, it's very difficult to console people," Russo said. "We all have to just sort of stand together and feel that we did a very thorough process sensitive to the needs of the community."

Schools closing this summer are Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Harbor View, Madison Square, Mildred Monroe and Park Heights elementary schools, and Luther Craven Mitchell and Malcolm X primary schools. Edgewood will close at the end of next school year, and Lafayette Elementary will close at the end of the 2003 school year.

The school board took the unusual step of approving bus transportation for 1,200 students in five schools. Parents had complained that their children would be forced to walk through drug-trafficking corridors and cross major intersections to get to their new schools.

Athena Lambert, president of the Lafayette Elementary PTO, was satisfied that the school board had addressed parents' concerns.

"I really am happy," she said. "Our biggest thing was the safety issue."

The fate of Arundel and Eutaw-Marshburn elementaries and Frankford Intermediate will be decided next year.

Any appeal to the state on the closings must be made in 30 days.

The board's decision to close Charles Carroll of Carrollton disappointed a contingent of supporters who attended the meeting in hopes of a last-minute reprieve.

"I'm just hurt," said Roger Lyons, a first-year teacher. "I resign. This makes no sense."

One mother of four Carrollton students said she would not send her children to their new schools.

"I don't want my kids in the [schools in the] surrounding areas," Denise Turpin said. "I refuse to send them."

School officials estimated last fall that they would save $108,000 per school in the first year of its closing. The board's decision last night may well lead to funding for the construction of a few new schools in neighborhoods where there is crowding.

Last night's action marked the first time since 1993 that the school board considered closing multiple schools and redrawing the boundaries. That year, the board backed down under intense pressure and closed only one of nine buildings on the proposed closure list.

The board voted to close five elementary schools in 1980.

Russo outlined several reasons for delaying action on three of the schools.

She said the system needs to consider the potential impact on student enrollment of new housing developments either proposed or under way near Arundel Elementary and Frankford Intermediate.

In the case of Arundel, which uses a special curriculum known as Direct Instruction, Russo said officials need more time to prepare pupils for a smooth transition to their new schools.

In addition, Russo said Frankford is a "beautiful campus site" and might lend itself to becoming a complex for kindergarten through eighth grade.

Russo said closing Eutaw-Marshburn at the end of this school year would not be practical, because one of the proposed feeder schools, Booker T. Washington Middle, would have to undergo extensive modifications to accommodate a K-8 program.

Pressure that was expected from politicians and community leaders never fully materialized. Russo said local officials understood that the closings were overdue.

"We are all territorial, but we all recognize the population has shifted," said City Councilwoman Catherine Pugh, a West Baltimore Democrat.

Though the city has roughly the same size elementary school population as Baltimore County, the county has only 102 elementary buildings compared with the city's 120.

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