School enrollment falls, rises in different areas

Officials scramble to find space in pockets of growth

November 09, 2007|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun reporter

Although the Baltimore County public school system has a declining number of students overall, pockets of growth continue to cause crowding in some schools, and officials must "think creatively" to balance the district's space needs, the head of the county school board said in an interview yesterday.

"A lot of times, such as in the Towson situation, you don't even have the option of moving kids around to nearby schools because those schools are in the same crowded position," board President JoAnn C. Murphy said.

She was referring to conditions that have spawned a proposal to move special-education students from their Towson school to one that would be built in Timonium.

"The shape of Baltimore County doesn't make it easy because a nearby school may not be in our jurisdiction," she said.

For the fifth consecutive year, the school system has fewer students than the year before, with 104,714 children this year, or about 1,500 fewer students as of Sept. 30 than it had at the same time last year, according to enrollment statistics that were discussed during this week's school board meeting. It has nearly 4,100 fewer students than it did at the same time in 2003.

But schools in the northeast, northwest and central areas of the district - where economic and residential growth is most concentrated - are continuing to see an influx of students.

Murphy said the school system is considering ways to address the issue, such as better use of technology.

For example, some schools are using mobile computer labs -- laptops on carts that are taken to students, so that a classroom that might have been dedicated to a computer lab becomes available for a teacher to use.

Encouraging "parallel enrollment" at local community colleges also might prove helpful, Murphy said.

"If you had a significant number of 12th-graders spending most of their day at the community college instead of with us, you would suddenly free up space," she said. "And this is something that is beneficial to students" because they earn college credits.

The growth areas for county schools include White Marsh, Towson and Owings Mills, while schools in the southeast are seeing lower enrollments.

Several elementary schools in the Towson area have far more students this year than they were built to accommodate.

Rodgers Forge, where 625 students are enrolled this year, has a capacity of 408, according to school system records. Stoneleigh, which has a capacity of 499 children, has 623 students. Hampton, with a capacity of 307, has 377 students. And Riderwood, which was built for 501 students, has 513.

"Naturally, when schools are grossly overcrowded by some furious numbers, we start to look at all strategies," she said. "The board is concerned about portable classrooms. We're not happy when we have to purchase or lease one for a school."

Murphy said the challenges include dealing with limited money, land on which to build and the need to respond quickly.

To help alleviate crowding in Towson-area schools, the school board is considering a proposal to build a school in Mays Chapel, a community along West Padonia Road near Interstate 83 in Timonium.

The plan would allow school officials to transfer all students from Ridge Ruxton School, which has 123 special-education students and 90 staff members. This would free classroom space for children in the Towson area.

The school system has owned the Mays Chapel property since the 1970s. Murphy said that while the district is always on the lookout for land, it has become increasingly difficult to find properties.

"The problem is that land is so expensive, or it's not in the right place, or it has a possible environmental impact," she said.

School enrollment down

Year Students

2003 108,792

2004 108,015

2005 107,386

2006 106,182

2007 104,714

(Based on Sept. 30 enrollment each year)

By geographic area (this school year)

Northeast 24,350

Northwest 22,226

Central 21,149

Southwest 19,927

Southeast 16,788

(Totals by geographic area do not include enrollments in certain programs such as evening high school.)

Source: Baltimore County Public Schools

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