Shifting pupils may ease crowding

Nearly 200 fifth-graders would move to middle school under proposal


To ease crowding at Manchester and Hampstead elementaries, Carroll County school officials are proposing to shift nearly 200 fifth-graders next fall to portable classrooms at North Carroll Middle.

The move - estimated to cost about $280,000 for additional teachers and staff - would bring "immediate relief" to the crowded elementary schools as well as provide flexibility for moving pupils around those buildings as construction of full-day kindergarten classrooms begins, according to a proposal presented at last week's school board meeting.

James Doolan, the system's director of transportation, told board members that next year's enrollment projections put Hampstead Elementary at 117 percent over capacity, with 583 pupils, and Manchester Elementary at 120 percent over capacity, with 767 pupils.

"The problem is significant because not only do overcrowded conditions affect instruction but also our core facilities," such as school cafeterias and gyms, Doolan said.

The proposal to move the fifth-graders to the middle school comes after a committee, on which Doolan served, considered options for relieving crowding at the two elementary schools while the area awaits the construction of Ebb Valley Elementary. School officials hope to open Ebb Valley for the 2008-2009 school year.

Doolan's report to the board indicated that both Manchester and Hampstead elementaries each have eight portables but little room on their properties for additional portables.

In addition, Doolan said, a crowded school will make it difficult, if not impossible in many cases, for administrators to move pupils into other portions of the buildings when construction of kindergarten classrooms begins.

The expansion of all-day kindergarten, which state education officials have required for all pupils by the 2007-2008 school year, will require the construction of classrooms at several elementary schools to accommodate more pupils in all-day classes.

Under the relocation plan, all of Manchester Elementary's fifth-graders, about 130 pupils who are scheduled to attend North Carroll Middle as sixth-graders, would be moved to the middle school.

More than 50 fifth-graders from Hampstead Elementary would attend classes at the middle school next year, while about 50 would remain at Hampstead and move on to Shiloh Middle for sixth grade. About a half-dozen regional special education fifth-graders also would remain at Hampstead.

The move would reduce capacity to 100 percent at Manchester Elementary and 106 percent at Hampstead Elementary, Doolan said.

In addition, two fifth-grade teachers from Hampstead and six fifth-grade teachers from Manchester would be transferred to North Carroll Middle. The committee also recommended an additional assistant principal at North Carroll.

The relocated pupils would attend classes in 12 portables at North Carroll, where a nearly $20 million modernization project was recently completed. Because pupils have been moved back into the renovated building, the portables are not being used.

The fifth-graders would attend nearly all of their classes in the portables and be separated from the middle school pupils most of the day. The fifth-graders would go into the main building for media, physical education and lunch, according to the proposal.

The relocated pupils, who would begin classes on the middle school time schedule, would ride the school bus with the middle-schoolers.

Doolan said this could be accomplished with "little fiscal impact" because the buses in that area have enough seats on them to accommodate the additional riders.

"We possibly would have to add one or two bus runs," he said.

While board members were largely supportive of the committee's recommendation, a few questions arose about certain details of the proposal.

Board member Cynthia L. Foley asked how long fifth-graders would be attending classes in the portables at the middle school.

"Building [Ebb Valley Elementary] could take up to four years," she said.

Doolan assured board members that the arrangement is considered a "temporary solution" to the crowding issue and could be "evaluated at any time" if concerns arise. He said a "best-case scenario" is that Ebb Valley will be completed in 2008.

Foley also raised concerns about having elementary pupils using a middle school library, where some books may not be age-appropriate.

Curtis Schnorr, the system's elementary schools director, said that library materials would be transferred to the middle school and that fifth-grade pupils would be restricted from checking out certain items that are considered inappropriate for them.

He said that is what school officials did when pupils were moved from Mount Airy Elementary to Mount Airy Middle during construction of Parr's Ridge Elementary, which opened in August.

Doolan added that the overall arrangement was well-received when it was used in Mount Airy.

"I see this as a positive situation," said Bob Mitchell, principal at Manchester Elementary. "This is welcome relief at Manchester, especially given [planned] construction," Mitchell said. "I don't see any negatives."

School officials have scheduled two public hearings - at 7 p.m. Jan. 4 at Manchester Elementary and at 7 p.m. Jan. 5 at Hampstead Elementary. The school board is expected to vote on the proposal at its Feb. 8 meeting.

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