High school overcrowding worries many in Perry Hall

Local leaders want new facility or enrollment boundary change

Balto. Co. board mulls consultant

January 02, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

"It is still fundamentally a very good high school, but there are a lot of warning signs on the horizon."

David Marks,Perry Hall Improvement Association president

"These are temporary solutions that still don't reduce enrollment. The board is going to have to take a direct stance - either redistrict or capital improvement."

---Vincent J. Gardina, Baltimore County councilman and Perry Hall resident

County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina and other Perry Hall community leaders are calling on the Baltimore County school board to either build a new high school or redraw enrollment boundaries to reduce crowding at Perry Hall High School, a building that which is 170 students over capacity.

But it is unclear whether such drastic steps are necessary.

Superintendent Joe A. Hairston and the school board are considering hiring an outside consultant to look at demographic data to see whether enrollment trends will continue over the long term.

Throughout the county, community leaders and parents are clamoring for construction of new schools or the redistricting of crowded ones after several years of building upgrades.

While large class sizes are not a problem at Perry Hall High - a school with two additions and a student body of 2,280 - congestion in the cafeteria and hallways portends trouble, community leaders say.

"It is still fundamentally a very good high school, but there are a lot of warning signs on the horizon," said David Marks, president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association, a neighborhood group that is pushing for a solution to the crowding.

Faculty members recently surveyed by the Perry Hall High PTSA said they are concerned about student safety, declining school spirit and mounting maintenance demands.

The cause of the high enrollment is unclear. Community leaders, Gardina and school system officials all point to different factors.

William Lawrence, who oversees schools in the northeastern part of the county, said safety concerns are unfounded. He said the problem is mostly heavy student traffic between the main building and a newer wing.

School officials, Lawrence said, have been addressing that issue.

Last year, they officials tweaked lunch schedules and redirected some stairway traffic to reduce congestion. Officials They also expect to modify doors connecting the wing and main building to ease traffic flow. Next school year, they will add a fifth lunch period.

School officials also are considering the more costly fixes of building a new corridor to link the new wing and main building, and enclosing a courtyard where seniors sometimes eat lunch to provide more dining space during inclement weather.

Although they welcome the changes and express hope the school board will approve them soon, community leaders said major fixes are also needed.

"These are temporary solutions, or Band-Aids, that still don't reduce enrollment and do not, in my opinion, resolve the situation," Gardina said.

"The board is going to have to take a direct stance - either redistrict or capital improvement," he said.

Gardina and other community leaders reject the idea of adding constructing a third addition at Perry Hall High, saying the 35-year-old building already is too large.

They said the school board should look at building a new high school in the northeastern part of the county or redrawing enrollment boundaries to redirect some students to other area high schools.

"Remedial solutions do not resolve the excess number of students in the school," said Jodi Shaefer, a PTSA official.

But Lawrence, the area executive director, said enrollments at all area high schools will be at or above capacity next school year, and in-house projections show the high enrollment at Perry Hall High subsiding after five years.

Community leaders say that an outside consultant could confirm projections and give policymakers the data they need to devise a solution to the crowding problem.

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