Closing schools

March 21, 2006

After hearing from parents and community residents, Baltimore school officials agreed to a few changes to a proposed plan to reduce school space. But concerned citizens still have time to make their voices heard. Speaking up could yet make a difference in the proposals to be voted on next week.

In the face of declining enrollment, Baltimore school administrators are looking to reduce overall space by 15 percent over the next three years. State officials are tying $41 million in school construction funds to the closing of some city schools. Through several rounds of neighborhood meetings, school officials tried to come up with plans that would focus on the system's academic priorities, such as converting more conventional middle schools to K-8 schools and creating more science and computer labs and other modern facilities.

Initial recommendations to close two high schools, two middle schools and an elementary school by August, dislocating about 5,300 students, were met with resistance from some parents. They were rightly concerned about mixing some high school and middle school students and keeping kids safe as they traveled through different neighborhoods. Last week, school officials responded to some parental concerns by postponing the date to shut down Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy until 2008, and sending students from other schools slated to close later this year to additional feeder schools to avoid overcrowding.

There are continuing concerns about the proposed relocation of Dr. Samuel L. Banks High School, which has a higher-than-average graduation rate, to the larger Thurgood Marshall high school and middle school. Similarly, questions have been raised about whether Southwestern High is being closed too soon. Its smaller learning academies are still getting acclimated as the system - in a welcome move - tries to expand options for all high school students by giving them more citywide choices.

School officials emphasize that dealing with underutilized, outmoded buildings while trying to advance sound academic policies is an ongoing process. In two more public meetings for this phase of the process - including one tomorrow night - the public has another chance to make sure school commissioners get it right when they start voting on the original proposal next week and the revisions in early April.

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