The Rodgers Forge community in Towson has long pushed to ease the crowding at its neighborhood elementary school. But if eliminating congestion means transferring their children to a new, $25 million school, few in this close-knit community of nearly 2,000 townhomes seem willing to make the change.
The majority of parents want their children to remain at Rodgers Forge Elementary, where many of them can walk to school. They oppose any redistricting plan that would bus their children a few miles to West Towson Elementary, which is set to open in August on North Charles Street.
"Ours will always be a crowded school and that is a backdoor compliment to our neighborhood," said Janice Moore, president of the Rodgers Forge Community Association. "This is a viable, stable and desirable area. Everything is right about this community, including its school."
Rather than "bounce kids around and fracture the school," she urged school officials to keep the neighborhood intact, regardless of capacity issues. Rodgers Forge Elementary, which dates to 1951, has long been the hub for the surrounding community, but its building serves nearly double its intended number and is surrounded by six portable classrooms. Fifth-graders go to class at nearby Dumbarton Middle.
While current Rodgers Forge Elementary fourth-graders will be able to stay at their home school regardless of the redistricting, keeping all neighborhood children there means the building would remain above its enrollment capacity of about 400, school officials said. State construction funding requires boundary options that take Rodgers Forge below capacity and ensure West Towson opens below its capacity of 451 students, officials said.
"We looked first at keeping Rodgers Forge students all together, but that would put the school at 115 percent," said Pamela Carter, boundary specialist with the system's office of strategic planning. "For that reason, each option shows the school with a smaller enrollment and some of the children at West Towson."
Children at Riderwood and Hampton elementaries could also be affected.
At a public forum on boundary issues last week, officials presented four possible scenarios developed by a committee of educators and residents to an audience of nearly 400, most of them Rodgers Forge residents.
"We expect good results from our questionnaires because of the numbers attending the forum," said Barbara Walker, central area assistant superintendent.
The audience heard a brief background summary and received a 39-page packet with enrollment figures, current and projected into the next five years, and maps outlining the four options. Numerous factors could alter the enrollment projections before the next school year, including the large number of homes on the market and the students who might transfer into the system from private and magnet schools, Walker said.
"There is not much cushion before either school reaches capacity and the reason is the desirable living in this area," she said.
In three of the options, Stevenson Lane, an artery that connects the neighborhood to York Road and Charles Street, would serve as the dividing line that splits enrollment. Bridget Joyce Duncan resides on what would be the West Towson side of Stevenson Lane.
Rodgers Forge Elementary "is the center of our neighborhood and brings the many homeowners together," she said. "My child lives a stone's throw away from Rodgers Forge Elementary, but, on most of the plans, would be bused to another school. Children sent to another school will miss out on the neighborhood feel that is the reason we bought our home here."
Officials, who took no public comment, separated participants into small groups, arranged so that not all members were from the same neighborhood. Each group was asked to choose an option. An exact tally is not yet available, but several groups seemed to favor the option that kept most of the Rodgers Forge neighborhood in the current school's district.
Sasha Harris, who lives in Gaywood, a community of 32 townhouses adjacent to Rodgers Forge, said she visited three schools in the area before choosing a neighborhood within walking distance of a school. Under the favored option, Gaywood children would take a bus to West Towson Elementary.
"We chose this close-knit community where everybody is in similar circumstances," she said. "Now, the school officials want to separate us out. It changes the whole concept of neighborhood for us."
After nearly two hours of discussion, the questionnaires and assessments were placed in sealed envelopes and sent to an independent consultant, who will collate and summarize the questionnaires and comments.
"We have to move forward in a democratic, fair way, while gathering the opinion of disparate folks, who obviously care about their community and are well informed," said Charles Herndon, communications specialist for the school system.
The boundary committee will review the tabulated results before its final meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 20 at Dumbarton Middle. Members will make their recommendation to the school board before its Feb. 9 meeting. Both sessions are open to the public. A public hearing on the preferred option is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 24 at Loch Raven High School. The board is expected to vote on the boundary March 9.