Balto. Co. to study student numbers

Officials to hire consultant to look at enrollment trends

November 27, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Troubled by the crowding at Baltimore County's newest school and the hundreds of empty seats in neighboring elementaries, officials plan to hire a consultant to study enrollment trends in the northwest and southwest areas of the school system.

This joint project of County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston was born out of September's opening day at New Town Elementary School in Owings Mills, which brought more than 900 pupils to a school built for 707.

"We understand that something went wrong at New Town, and we want to make sure it doesn't happen again," Ruppersberger said in a prepared statement.

There is no word on how much the consultant will cost or who will be hired, but Hairston said yesterday he hopes to see the consultant in place by spring with something to report next fall.

"What they're trying to do is get ahead of the curve," said school board member John A. Hayden III. "If we can project out far enough, we'll have the right kind of schools when they're needed."

New Town is 219 pupils over capacity - and has the portable classrooms on its front lawn to prove it. But neighboring elementaries Owings Mills, Reisterstown, Glyndon, Church Lane and Winand have excess classroom space.

In the 18 elementary schools in the northwest, there are 727 spare seats, putting a wrench into the growing argument that the northwest needs another elementary school. (A 200-seat addition is scheduled to be built somewhere in the area during fiscal year 2004).

Meanwhile, New Town High School is under construction across the street for 1,400 students; and a group of community members led by Del. Robert A. Zirkin says the area needs a new middle school, too.

`Better to have experts'

"It's better to have experts come in and look at it," Hairston said.

Michael C. Franklin Sr. was co-chairman of the committee that drew the boundaries last year for New Town Elementary. He saw the New Town mess coming, he said.

Not enough schools were being included in the mix, he said, and the district was about to be left with several under-enrolled schools and one overloaded one. He resigned his chairmanship about two-thirds of the way through the process.

Boundary changes

"There seems to be a lot of resistance to any massive boundary changes," he said.

An look at where the seats are - and where they aren't - might suggest that transferring children from school to school could solve most of the problem, but boundary changes have proved to be an emotional and political process.

At the same time, school board policy suggests children not be moved more than once in their elementary school careers.

But the money for the consultant would be well spent, Franklin said, if the school board follows the recommendations and makes the changes the consultant is bound to suggest.

"We just have never really done what the numbers said to do," he said.

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