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Ridge Ruxton parents decry plan to ease West Towson crowding by shifting students

Proposal to share space described as 'breaking… promise' to families

By Jon Meoli, jmeoli@tribune.com

10:49 PM EST, January 30, 2012

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A vocal group of Ridge Ruxton School community members spoke out Monday evening against a proposal from Baltimore County Public Schools that would move four West Towson Elementary School classes into the adjacent special education school for the 2012-13 school year.

The plan is meant to alleviate crowding at West Towson, which has a stated capacity of 451 students. This year the school has 519 students, and enrollment is expected to balloon to 591 next year, according to school estimates.

Still, during a presentation by county school officials and Ridge Ruxton principal Edmund Bennett, Ridge Ruxton parents said they intended to fight to keep what they consider theirs.

"We're advocating for our kids who cannot speak for themselves at all," said Mary Munoz, a Ridge Ruxton parent and PTA secretary. "These parents are all taking care of their kids at home who are medically fragile. Some of them require constant monitoring, and these parents came out. …

"It's hard not to feel that we're being moved around, and maybe our kids aren't a priority," she said.

"We fight for everything," said Jennine Washington after the meeting. Washington, a Reisterstown resident, said it felt like something was being taken away from her and her 6-year-old son with the proposal.

"I understand they have to do something for West Towson, but we don't get the things we need for our children," she said. "I'm frustrated. I'm tired."

Under the proposal, three classrooms and a fourth classroom-sized space currently used for storage and office space in Ridge Ruxton would house a full grade of West Towson Elementary students.

To accommodate the individual education plans of Ridge Ruxton students, which call for a separate public special education day school, a pair of doors would be constructed in the hallway to ensure that the student populations are kept separate.

The West Towson students in Ridge Ruxton would use their own school's nurse, cafeteria, and library, and separate bathrooms would be constructed for the West Towson students.

A second meeting will be held Wednesday, Feb. 1, at 7 p.m. at West Towson for that school's parents to learn about the proposal and discuss it with county school officials.

Breaking a promise?

Josephine Del Pilar, a Perry Hall resident whose 13-year-old son attends Ridge Ruxton, said her family was looking forward to him graduating from the elementary school and going to the high school wing of the school. But she fears high school classrooms would be in jeopardy under the proposal.

For Del Pilar, treasurer of the Ridge Ruxton PTA, keeping that "adventure" alive for her son is another struggle in a life that they know all too well.

"Every day is a battle for us," she said. "Everything we do is an uphill battle. We have to fight for insurance, education, even to dine out."

Other parents spoke out regarding the perceived broken promises made to Ridge Ruxton parents when West Towson was built on the campus a few years ago. It opened in 2010.

"The Ridge Ruxton community gave up all this property for obviously something that did not work," said Wendy King of Cockeysville during the meeting. King's 9-year-old daughter attends Ridge Ruxton.

"We were told that our building would not be touched, and here it is several years later and you want this piece," she said. "You're breaking your promise that's already made, and so you can justify three classrooms … but it's another Band-Aid. That's how it feels to us as parents."

Bennett said the meeting was informational and designed to get responses from members of the community, but stressed that it was just a proposal at this point.

However, no alternative was presented.

Population 'bubble'

Kara Calder, director of planning and support operations for the Baltimore County Public Schools, told parents that her office had examined all of the possible alternatives, including annexation and other solutions, before arriving at the current proposal.

Several Ridge Ruxton parents questioned why the two-year-old West Towson wasn't built large enough to begin with.

Calder said an unexpectedly high housing turnover in the Rodgers Forge area created a bubble of young children going through the elementary schools, as well as an unquantifiable number of parents who previously might have sent their children to private schools were it not for the "fabulous schools" in the Towson community.

All that creates an untenable short-term situation for West Towson Elementary School. Based on next year's projections, the school will be 140 students, or 31 percent, over capacity. By 2015, estimates have West Towson at 202 students over capacity, and by 2021, that number is expected to grow to 264 students, or 58 percent over the facility's stated capacity.

Ridge Ruxton, however, is projected to stay at its current 111 students for the foreseeable future.

Bennett said that just as happens each year, the school would work with its staff to accommodate its student population's needs.

Kathleen McMahon, executive director of special programs for the county school system, assured parents that Ridge Ruxton will be maintained as a separate school and that no changes would be necessary for the students' individual education plans.

Calder said during the meeting that between 75 and 90 West Towson students would be moved to Ridge Ruxton, which would still leave the school over capacity going forward.