Overcrowding Becoming Serious Problem in Baltimore County Schools
Success breeds more students, but the additional students in some Baltimore County Schools are creating quite a challenge for the teachers and administrators at the schools. We examine the growing problem of school growth and plans the district could implement to stop it.
Success breeds popularity, but in Baltimore County Schools, that popularity can be more than school officials bargained for. Overcrowding has become a serious problem for many successful schools in this large county, leaving few options for a district that has little money in the budget for expansion. However, doing nothing does not appear to a viable option either, as future projections show the problem growing, rather than subsiding.
According to a recent report at the Parkville Patch, 2012 enrollment for Baltimore County is 106,885 students. By 2020, that number is expected to jump to 111,488, with steady increases annually until that time. The report used Cohort Survival Methodology to make the predictions listed, which assumes students will matriculate through the grade levels in a sequential manner. In addition, new housing construction in the area was taken into consideration as the predictions were calculated.
Schools Deal with Tough Conditions
Numerous schools throughout Baltimore County are impacted by overcrowding issues. The Baltimore Sun recently did a report on three Maryland schools that are well over capacity; Hillcrest Elementary, Westchester Elementary and Catonsville Elementary. Of the three, Hillcrest appears to be suffering the most right now, with a student body of 841 students in a building designed to hold just 666. Westchester has an excess of 85 students over capacity, and Catonsville currently boasts 31 students over their capacity limit.
With nearly 200 students over capacity, Hillcrest faces a myriad of issues, from toilets the frequently stop up to classes assembling in hallways. Lunch “hour” lasts nearly three hours for the school, with some students breaking for lunch before 11:00 a.m. and others having to wait to eat until nearly 2:00 p.m. The school therapist has an office in a converted closet, according to ABC 2 News. Even the parking lot for the school feels the pain, with crowded conditions that prohibits students who can take the bus from getting rides from home.
The principal of Hillcrest, Terry McVey, has asked the district for more portable classrooms that would get students out of their current hallway venues. However, McVey warned the trailers are a temporary solution to what could be a more permanent problem.
“That would get us by next year and maybe the following year, but nothing’s definite in terms of staffing, planning or budgets for next year,” McVey told the Baltimore Sun.
While some might assume a new building is the logical answer to these types of issues, the solution is more complex than simply constructing a bigger place for students and teachers to meet. Charles Herndon, a spokesman for Baltimore County Schools explains that the construction of a new school needs to be weighed against the resources currently available to the district. In a growing county like Baltimore, land doesn’t come cheap, and schools rarely have enough resources to go around.
Reasons for Success
One of the reasons Hillcrest has seen such a high rate of growth is its record of academic success. With 95-percent scores on both math and reading tests, the school boasts some of the highest standardized test scores in the state. Catonsville and Westchester have scores nearly as high as Hillcrest. Families learn of those scores and then move into the school’s area to ensure their children receive the highest quality of education possible. Even with the crowding issues, parents have mostly positive things to say about the Hillcrest staff.
“It’s overcrowded because it’s an extremely successful school,” Mike Bowler, a member of the Baltimore County School Board, told the Baltimore Sun. “In a sense, it’s a victim of its own success.”
Committee Examines Solutions to Crowding Issue
In an effort to address the crowding problem from a variety of perspectives, Hillcrest has appointed a four-member parent team to assess the primary issues caused by overcrowding and possible solutions to those issues. Erica Mah, one of the parents on the committee, told the Baltimore Sun that crowding has been an issue for the school for some time. She also warned that if enrollment figures continue to increase as predicted, the problem could become much worse before it gets better.
Mah said the plumbing system for Hillcrest is one of the top concerns she has at this time. She explained that as the system becomes overwhelmed, toilets in some of the bathrooms back up, causing a stench in the school. Another problem, according to Mah, is the extended lunch hour. She is concerned that more students could mean the lunch hour could extend further, which would force kids to eat their midday meal even earlier or later. In addition, the extended use of the cafeteria for lunch means the school isn’t always able to schedule enrichment activities and other special events for children during the school day.
As schools in Baltimore County continue to weigh their options, one group is advocating for their needs. Towson Families United was originally established to address concerns about overcrowding at Rodger Forge Elementary, but the group has expanded to address the needs of other crowded schools in the district as well. The organization has been instrumental in helping schools get money for additions and new school construction to accommodate students.
Still the problem of overcrowding appears to be a constant one for the county. Baltimore County officials, as well as administrators at individual schools, will keep on searching for solutions - from additional temporary classrooms, to more staff and new school buildings. If Baltimore County Public Schools continue in their success, they will continue to look for ways to accommodate more students in their rapidly growing school system.
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