Smith asks group to study crowding at Perry Hall High

Parents met with executive, he tells superintendent

March 05, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has asked a regional planning group to look at crowded Perry Hall High School, which parents have complained is not safe.

In one of his first actions involving the school system, Smith has asked the Baltimore Metropolitan Council to study enrollment trends at Perry Hall High and explore possible solutions to the crowding. The school is 170 students over capacity.

Smith sent a letter to Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston last week saying he took the step because Perry Hall High parents have voiced their "mistrust and frustration" with the school system's response to their concerns.

"The parents with whom I met feel that the school system has not recognized that serious problems exist and is not developing solutions to address these problems," Smith wrote in the two-page letter. "They laid out for me a time-line during which they felt school system personnel had ignored their concerns."

Smith could not be reached for comment yesterday. Matthew Joseph, his education liaison, said the county executive wanted to help the school system "rebuild trust" with the community by commissioning the independent study.

The study would look at school enrollments throughout the northeastern part of the county.

Hairston said through a spokesman said that he wanted to talk with Smith before making a public comment.

For months, Perry Hall High parents have been voicing concerns about jammed hallways, waning school spirit and maintenance difficulties.

School system officials have said the school is safe and attributed the parents' concerns to poor traffic flow within the school. In response, they have altered lunch schedules, redirected hallway traffic and modified doors.

"That is not enough," said Jodi Shaefer, an official with the Perry Hall High PTSA, which has called for construction of a new corridor and an examination of whether to redraw enrollment boundaries.

Shaefer said crowding in the cafeteria, which is sometimes 200 students over capacity, is a continuing fire code violation.

When a fire broke out in a stairwell, she said, some students used that stairwell to leave the building.

According to school system projections, enrollment at Perry Hall High will peak at 2,452 students in the 2007-2008 school year, and remain above its capacity of 2,110 students through the 2012-2013 school year.

The school system is negotiating with DeJong & Associates, an Ohio firm, to double-check enrollment projections at Perry Hall High and all other high schools in the district. The consultant would issue recommendations this fall.

Parents, however, believe the system's projections are overly conservative and they question the credibility of a firm hired by the school system, Shaefer said.

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