Crowding persists despite redistricting

But Harford officials say middle school enrollment `on the road' to being fixed

October 31, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Despite the Harford County Board of Education's decision to redistrict hundreds of students for the 2002-2003 year, Southampton Middle School - which lost pupils - still has 15 portables on the lawn and Fallston Middle - which gained them - is at nearly 130 percent of capacity.

Thomas Ackerman, a principal and member of an advisory committee that reviews enrollment, said Tuesday that the schools are headed in the right direction in dealing with crowding, which is most serious in the central and western portions of the county.

"We're moderately happy with what has happened," he said. "Southampton has at least been put on the road to getting fixed."

Redistricting moved about 600 pupils, nearly 400 from Southampton Middle School in Bel Air. Its enrollment is 1,613, down from 2,008 last year. The school was built to accommodate 1,509 pupils.

William Ekey, assistant supervisor of research and evaluation, said Monday that an unexpected spike in sixth-grade enrollment had pushed Fallston Middle to 1,274 pupils, or 128.9 percent of capacity. The school was built to handle 988 pupils. He said each year projections are off for a grade or two and that predicting where spikes will occur is difficult.

School administrators released enrollment figures Monday night at a board meeting.

"I'm still frustrated, and I'm still concerned," said school board member Robert Thomas, adding that a new middle-high school in Bel Air is the best solution to central county crowding. He noted, however, that until the commission established by County Executive James M. Harkins releases its recommendations on relieving classroom crowding, the school board cannot effectively deal with the issue.

John O'Neill, vice chairman of the commission, said Tuesday that the report, which was due Oct. 1, would be available tomorrow.

Several U.S. 40 schools in the southern county sit at 70 percent to 80 percent of capacity.

Among the county's 32 elementary schools, Forest Lakes at 108.36 percent of capacity and Prospect Mill at 108.97 percent are the most crowded. Youth's Benefit, Joppatowne, Forest Green and Bel Air elementaries are all above 95 percent of capacity.

Five of the eight middle schools are above 98 percent of capacity, and seven of the nine high schools are above 95 percent. The board flagged two elementaries with low enrollments - Darlington and Hall's Cross Roads - for further study.

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