School board votes to delay closure of Southwestern complex

June 14, 2006|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

The Baltimore school board voted last night to delay the closure of the Southwestern High School complex by a year.

The board considered the delay in response to community concerns. But it also weighed making a decision that might result in a conflict with the state.

Two of the four small high schools in the Southwestern complex, the Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts and Southwestern High No. 412, will stay where they are for another year.

Augusta Fells Savage was previously slated to move into the same building as Lafayette Elementary and Calverton Middle, but parents there are fearful the move would cause a gang conflict. They also said it would be inappropriate for young children to go to school alongside high school students.

The board will spend next school year finding a permanent home for Augusta Fells Savage.

Southwestern No. 412 was supposed to move for one year to Benjamin Franklin Junior High School before closing for good, but school board chairman Brian Morris said it makes more sense to leave the school where it is for its final year.

The question now is whether the delay will result in the state revisiting which school construction and renovation projects it approves for funding in coming years.

The city schools have space for 125,000 students, but only 85,000 enrolled. State officials have said that for the system to continue receiving project approvals, it must make significant progress toward closing schools, follow through with previously approved construction projects and start a program to maintain equipment such as roofs and heaters.

The city school board voted last fall to reduce its operating space by 15 percent over three years. Morris emphasized last week that the board is still committed to meeting that goal.

David Lever, executive director of the state's public school construction program, said the committee that determines construction project approvals would have to discuss whether the delay of Southwestern's closing willhave an impact on future approvals. He said he was deeply concerned by the postponement, but added that the state will be "very careful about any action that could even potentially harm students." He also said officials will weigh the system's progress in the other two areas in making decisions.

Last night's board vote prompted parents from other city schools scheduled to relocate to ask for the same reconsideration. Parents said they're also worried about gang conflicts when Dr. Samuel L. Banks High School moves to the Thurgood Marshall Middle/High School complex and Renaissance Academy moves to Booker T. Washington Middle School.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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