School board criticizes New Town plan

Work session scheduled on elementary's crowding

April 24, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

In an unusual display of pique, Baltimore County school board members have criticized a temporary plan to ease crowding at New Town Elementary School and scheduled a work session to discuss the issue.

Some board members reacted testily when the plan was presented at a meeting Tuesday night, complaining it wasn't submitted in writing and lacked the data they need to assess its effectiveness.

"I honestly don't know what's going on," said Michael Kennedy, a board member. "This doesn't help me at all. I might as well go out and get another drink of water."

In response to the complaints, Superintendent Joe A. Hairston interrupted the board's discussion and offered to hold a work session for the board, which has been tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.

"You'll see the depth and breadth of the work done by the staff," Hairston told the board.

Board President Donald L. Arnold blamed the "miscommunication" on the holiday break that ended Tuesday.

New Town Elementary, which is more than 250 pupils over its capacity of 700, has been crowded since opening two years ago. Last fall, Hairston blocked new pupils from enrolling, though families are moving into the rapidly growing area every week.

The latest proposal is a temporary fix until Woodholme Elementary School is built. That is expected to take at least three years.

The proposal calls for transferring 150 pupils attending New Town Elementary, including 20 pupils who are emotionally disturbed, to other schools in northwest Baltimore County next school year. The children with special needs would attend Chatsworth School, which is for special education students.

Pupils living in the Garrison Forest area off Reisterstown Road would attend Glyndon and Franklin Elementary schools. Pupils in the McDonogh Township area, east of Interstate 795, would go to Fort Garrison and Summit Park Elementary schools.

In addition, any pupils moving into planned developments would attend Reisterstown Elementary School. Those developments include the Brookside Commons apartments, Red Run II apartments and Winterset Woods homes west of I-795.

School officials estimate the moves will lower New Town Elementary's enrollment to 800 pupils, giving the school 100 extra seats in its regular and portable classrooms. They said the other schools affected by the plan won't be near capacity.

But parents fear that New Town's extra seats will quickly be filled by children moving into existing developments and that the school will again exceed its capacity.

"It's going to be the same situation," said Joan White McCain, who is chairwoman of the PTA's Overcrowding Committee.

Kelli Nelson, who is chairwoman of groups on special education and schools in northwestern Baltimore County, said most of the students chosen for moves live in apartments or have special needs.

"The kids that can least likely afford this transition are the ones being singled out," she said.

Ghassan Shah, of the school system's planning office, said the system will block new admissions at New Town Elementary if enrollment grows to more than 900. He denied that particular children were being targeted. Shah said the plan was the best solution to maximize space at area schools while reducing crowding at New Town Elementary.

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