Hearings to tackle issue of high school crowding

Officials seeking relief for burdened N. Carroll

Carroll County

March 10, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Facing a complicated overcrowding problem at North Carroll High School, Carroll County school officials hope to hear from as many parents, teachers and students as possible tomorrow night at the first of two public hearings on how to handle the swelling student enrollment.

More than 1,600 students attend classes this year in the 27-year-old building, which has a 1,340-student capacity. That crowding is expected to worsen as residential development continues in the Westminster, Manchester and Hampstead neighborhoods it serves. About 1,850 students are projected to attend North Carroll by the 2007-2008 school year.

"This is probably the most difficult high school overcrowding problem that I've seen," said school board President C. Scott Stone, who has been on the five-member panel for more than a decade.

Although North Carroll is located within the town limits of Hampstead, it draws students from Manchester and beyond to the Pennsylvania border, as well as from the south near Westminster. Dropping enough students from North Carroll's attendance area to relieve crowding could mean busing kids who live in Hampstead to Winters Mill or Westminster high schools in Westminster, or to Francis Scott Key High near Union Bridge, Stone said.

When the school board considered redistricting elementary pupils from crowded schools in Westminster to Taneytown several years ago, the proposal did not go over well with community members, Stone said.

"People were just furious," he said. "They did not want to be living in town limits but [have their children] being transported out of town to attend school."

Because of the difficulties of redistricting enough students out of North Carroll's attendance area to make a difference, a committee recommended in December that an addition be built at the school, expanding its capacity by 600 students to about 1,960. The annex would make North Carroll the county's largest school building.

That proposal caused a stir, with parents, school staff and school board members warning that such an annex or addition would push the school's population well beyond the county's goal of limiting high schools to 1,200 students.

School board members decided to slow down the process and announced their intention to take a year to study the options and solicit community input before deciding what to do.

Among the options up for debate are building a new high school, as well as running two shifts of classes a day or scheduling year-round classes at North Carroll.

Schools officials are still considering the 600-student addition and a redistricting plan that could affect most, if not all, of the county's high schools.

"This is really the beginning of the dialogue," Stone said of tomorrow's public hearing. "It's not the first step, but it's the beginning of the nitty-gritty discussion. ... There's a lot of conflicting feelings and we really do need the community's input to solve this problem."

Carmela Guthart, a parent activist in Manchester who has two children at North Carroll High, said board members should expect a crowd.

"Parents will be there in force," she said. "It's not so much that they all want to speak. They just want to be there physically to let the board know that this is something that needs to be dealt with."

Guthart said she has written board members, pointing out the potential problems of adding classrooms at North Carroll.

"What about the core facilities?" she asked. "If you add the portables or you add permanent classroom space, do we have the gymnasium space? Do we have the bathroom space? Do we have the parking lot space? And if the kids are getting to school at 8 in the morning, are you going to have them eating lunch at 10?"

In talking with parents and others in the community, she said, the most viable option seems to be building another high school. The least popular alternative, she said, has been running classes in two shifts.

"The biggest impact of shifts will be on teachers," Guthart said. "And if you don't have happy teachers, who's that going to affect but the kids?"

The first public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the auditorium of North Carroll High in Hampstead. The second public meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the auditorium of Winters Mill High.

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker next hopes to meet with elected officials from Hampstead, Manchester and Westminster. He expects to recommend a solution to the school board by October, enabling board members to vote on a proposal by December.

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