Baltimore Co. schools see enrollment dip again

November 09, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,sun reporter

For the fourth consecutive year, enrollment at Baltimore County's public schools has declined slightly, according to a report discussed during last night's school board meeting.

The school system, which has 106,182 children this year, had nearly 1,000 fewer students as of Sept. 30 than it had at the same time last year. It has nearly 3,000 fewer than it did at the same time in 2003.

School officials, who had projected a more modest decline from last year's enrollment of 107,386 students, said the issue of crowded classrooms persists largely because the decline represents the system overall, not specific schools.

"We're seeing simultaneous growth and decline across the county," said Chris Brocato, an analyst with the school system's strategic planning department.

Growth areas include White Marsh and Owings Mills, while schools in the southeast area of the county are seeing lower enrollments.

School officials revise the district's projections annually, using data such as birth rates and kindergarten enrollments to predict the system's population.

In an interview before last night's meeting, Brocato cautioned that while enrollments show fewer students overall, classroom capacity is affected by other factors, such as programs that cater to smaller class sizes or specific groups of students.

For years, the school system has enrolled far fewer middle school pupils than its elementary school enrollments might suggest to expect. While the system had 47,995 elementary school pupils last year, it enrolled 23,986 middle-schoolers this year. Meanwhile, the county's high schools have enrolled 34,327 students.

Parents in the Owings Mills area said they believe this enrollment drop has inhibited their efforts to have a middle school built.

"Based on elementary and high school enrollment, there is a potential need for the middle school, but based on the middle school numbers, there is no need," said Jonathan Schwartz, an area vice president for the PTA. "You have to understand not just the raw numbers but the reasons."

Brocato said it is a trend that school officials are assessing. He said the county's high schools are "competitive performance-wise and are viable alternatives" to private schools, which might explain the enrollment boost. He said the middle school enrollment dip is more likely related to demographic changes than academic performance.

"This is a very dynamic county with areas that are constantly changing," Brocato said. "We're looking at trends, but it's difficult to assess any single theory or rationale" for the shifts.

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