Middle school plan delay in Mt. Washington angers parents

State has denied request to allow planning next year for addition

May 14, 2002|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Angered because plans to add a middle school to Mount Washington Elementary have been delayed, parents say they are concerned that families will decide to send their children to other schools or even leave the city.

"I am frustrated," said Eva Glasgow, who has been fighting for a middle school since her two children, now in high school, went to Mount Washington. "I really feel it is such an unbelievable uphill battle."

Last week, the state Board of Public Works denied a request by city schools to allow planning to proceed next year for a middle school. If planning had been approved, the state would have paid a substantial portion of the cost of construction of a new middle school next year.

The parents are expected to speak tonight at the school board meeting, and Mark Smolarz, chief operating officer for the school system, said he hopes to work with the community on several options for a middle school.

The school system is moving to expand 17 elementary schools into elementary-middle schools as a way of improving achievement and keeping pupils closer to their neighborhoods through eighth grade.

Many schools have space that can be used for a middle school. But Mount Washington would need an addition on a relatively small school lot.

Parents of Mount Washington fifth-graders say they face a tough choice because the city promised to put a portable classroom on the campus to allow the sixth grade to begin there next fall. Some are reluctant to let their children start sixth grade there with the question of whether there will be a seventh and eighth grade.

"The major concern for me as a fifth-grade parent is we need to know what our future is, and we need to know soon because we need to make decisions for our children," said Glasgow, who has reserved a spot for her child at another school.

Eric Brown, the father of another fifth-grader, said city school officials had promised there would be a middle school next year. "As parents, you sort of plan around that," he said, adding that it is too late in the school year to find a place for his son elsewhere.

Brown's son will go to sixth grade at Mount Washington next year, and Brown will begin rearranging finances to send his son to a private school for seventh grade.

"That will mean the public school system has failed the parents at Mount Washington. That means the state has failed us," Brown said. "It says to me that we can't rely on the public schools."

Parents at the elementary school have been trying for many years to get a middle school addition because they were dissatisfied with having their children go on to Fallstaff Middle School, one of many low-performing middle schools in the city.

Rather than send their children to Fallstaff, many parents try to have their children accepted into a high-level math and science program at Roland Park Middle School or send their children to private or parochial schools.

This year, for the first time, the city school board said it would give Mount Washington a sixth grade next fall and would add a middle school, if the state agreed to pay a substantial portion of the construction costs.

The city got $4.2 million in school construction dollars for next year, as well as the go-ahead to begin planning for three major projects worth an estimated $30 million - not including Mount Washington.

Yale Stenzler, executive director of the state's public school construction program, said the city school system's request for planning approval was denied because of questions concerning "scope of work and enrollment projections."

He said officials asked to renovate or build more square footage at the site than projected enrollment shows is needed.

The school has 55 fifth-graders this year. But parents say the state can't expect the enrollment to begin to increase until parents know there will be a middle school.

Parent George M. Lewis said many parents begin looking at private schools for their children in fourth grade because they don't see any option ahead.

"If the commitment is not there by the state, it is difficult to convince yourself to hang in there," said Lewis who is chairman of Mount Washington's School Improvement Team.

Glasgow sees the issue not just as one of educating Mount Washington's children, but as one of keeping the middle class in the neighborhood and the city.

"I don't want to live in the county or the suburbs, but it is making it difficult to live here anymore," she said.

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