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News Maryland Baltimore County Catonsville

School overcrowding should become a priority issue [Editorial]

If there is one problem we can be certain will not solve itself in Baltimore County, it is overcrowded schools. In fact, it is likely to get worse.

Indications are that student enrollment in county schools is headed upward for at least a decade. The 2012 district-wide enrollment of 107,033 is expected to add another 1,409 this year, according to data released by the school system last month. The 10-year projected increase is 6,929 more students.

This enrollment increase will hit elementary schools first, then move up into middle and high schools, according to the report.

Those numbers might even be conservative because economic trends impact attendance figures. Under difficult economic circumstances, when household budgets become tighter, parents who might otherwise enroll their children in private schools choose the public school option. We will likely see more of this as the future brings more economic austerity, not less.

When West Towson Elementary School, built to alleviate crowding elsewhere, opened a few years ago, it instantly filled up. Indications were that parents who might otherwise have chosen a private school saw a less costly opportunity in West Towson.

And, overcrowding isn't just a matter of extra desks in classrooms and trailers on ball fields. It diminishes education quality.

Parents of children at Hillcrest Elementary School, in Catonsville, which is 22 percent over capacity, made this point when they appeared before the school board Feb. 5 to ask for a solution to overcrowding.

They noted that enrichment assemblies, including author visits and storytelling sessions, had to be canceled because extended lunch service made the cafeteria gathering spot unavailable for use.

As evidence mounts about the impact of a rising tide of enrollment, school officials are no doubt tracking the issue and solutions may be under discussion. If so, that discussion is going on internally. It needs a public airing.

Otherwise, we hear only about cases, such as Hillcrest, that surface because of parental lobbying. We worry that crowded schools with less active and vocal parents may escape attention.

School crowding should be treated as a countywide problem, with the urgency it deserves. And the public should be in the discussion loop. With a new superintendent, Dallas Dance, at the helm, no time is better to start than now.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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