Enrollment keeps falling slightly in Balto. County

November 19, 2008|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,arin.gencer@baltsun.com

Enrollment in Baltimore County public schools has continued to decline slightly, but areas of growth - with some schools far exceeding their capacity - remain, according to a new report.

This year marks the sixth consecutive time that the school system has had fewer students than the previous year. There are 103,643 students enrolled - down 1,071 from 2007. The district has about 5,100 fewer students than in 2003.

"We are a county that has pockets of growth and decline happening simultaneously in many different areas," said Chris Brocato, a school system planning analyst, referring to the 2008 report on enrollment, projections and capacities, which is to be presented to the school board tonight.

While the southeastern and southwestern portions of the county are fairly stable, or slightly declining, the central and northeastern sections exhibit the most growth, Brocato said.

Some of those geographic regions have schools that far exceed capacity while others are under capacity. The southwest area, for example, includes Hillcrest Elementary (nearly 20 percent over capacity) and Lansdowne Elementary (about 16 percent over). They stand in contrast to Arbutus and Woodmoor elementaries, which fall about 20 percent and 27 percent short of their capacity, respectively. Catonsville Middle School is about 12 percent overcapacity, while neighboring Arbutus Middle is about 26 percent under and Southwest Academy is 34 percent under.

Overall, central-area elementary and high schools continue to house more students than they were built to accommodate. Elementary schools climbed from 175 to 404 pupils above their state-set limits. Hampton, Sparks and Stoneleigh alone range from about 20 percent to 30 percent over capacity. Rodgers Forge is nearly 80 percent over.

Northeast-area high schools dipped under their overall capacity, going from 2 percent over to nearly 7 percent below. School officials attributed that change in part to the building of a new wing at Kenwood High School.

The enrollment and projection data have "a great deal to do with how we look at our approach to budgeting for the following year," Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said. Yet he emphasized the importance of looking for trends, not "kneejerk[ing] in one direction or another" based on one year's data.

"The more immediate concern for us is to look at the level of resources we have available and make sure that we maximize those resources to provide services based on the needs of all of our students," Hairston said. The information plays into planning for every part of the district, including transportation, facilities and curriculum and instruction, he said.

This year's report comes a few weeks after the release of a legislative audit on the school system, which called for alternative solutions to deal with crowded schools - besides building new facilities. The audit listed using under-capacity schools or redrawing district boundary lines as possibilities, and suggested the county had not widely employed those options.

The school system has sought ways to relieve some of its crowded facilities. In the central area, plans are under way to build a new elementary school to alleviate the Towson area's crowding. In the southeast area, a study of over-capacity schools was done to find short- and long-term strategies, and a boundary change committee was started this school year to balance enrollment between two elementaries in that region, school officials said.

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