School enrollment estimates, near perfect, please officials

Biggest error made in projection for New Town building

October 12, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

The sheer number of children lining up to get into Baltimore County's newest school made headlines last month. Expecting 655 pupils and built for 706, New Town Elementary enrolled 931 - leaving the campus in need of additional teachers and portable classrooms to handle the overflow.

Figures released by school officials at last night's county Board of Education meeting show New Town was by far the most significant error made by officials charged with projecting enrollment in the system's 162 schools. On Sept. 28, the day the county took its official snapshot of school enrollment, there were 107,322 students - 38 fewer than officials projected and 189 more than one year ago.

A practically perfect projection overall - "99.96 percent," county schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said yesterday. "Can you get any better than that?"

School board members have been eagerly awaiting the data. They have publicly questioned what went wrong in predicting how many would attend New Town. They have wondered whether the school system will need to push ahead with construction of another elementary or middle school in the Owings Mills area.

"I know that sometimes our folks are maligned for not being able to come up with accurate figures," said Michael P. Kennedy, a school board member. "I'm impressed with these figures. "

Dozens of the New Town pupils came from out of the county or from area private schools, officials have said, calling the crowding a testament to confidence in public education.

Many of the children, according to the enrollment figures released yesterday, also appear to have come from nearby schools, where crowding was a problem last year and has eased a bit this year.

At Hernwood Elementary, there were 611 pupils a year ago - jammed into a building intended for 448. This year, there are a more manageable 445 pupils, though projections called for 508.

Karen Yarn, whose two children attend Deer Park Middle School, was the PTA president at Hernwood Elementary last year. She was pleased to hear that there is "some breathing room" at the school, but she worries how her children and others have fared after enduring years of attending school in classrooms that are crowded.

"The quality suffers when you have too many kids you're trying to teach," Yarn said.

Yarn said she thinks the school system should do its student census more than once a year - and adjust such things as teacher assignments accordingly.

Her neighborhood off Liberty Road, she said, is populated by older people with three-, four- and five-bedroom homes who are moving and selling to younger families with school-age children.

Using the enrollment figures from the end of September won't hold up, she said.

"The numbers are going to still go up, [but] they won't be as dramatic," Yarn said. "The folks keep moving into the neighborhood all year long."

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