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Johnnycake Elementary School parents 'brighten' school on their own time and dime

After classes let out at Johnnycake Elementary School in June, parents and other volunteers got right to work painting and refreshing student bathrooms to make them more inviting.

“We wanted people to come into the school and say, ‘Hey, this is actually pretty neat,’” said Karen Ross, past vice president of the Johnnycake Elementary School PTA.

Ross said there were more than a dozen volunteers, including assistant principal Maryjane Salaga. Since late June, they have painted stall doors and placed vinyl decals on walls and colorful tape around mirrors to brighten the rooms, she said.

Ross said the work in the student bathrooms is complete, and the PTA is now working on the “finishing touches” in staff bathrooms.

Rachel Smith, PTA president, said the organization had budgeted about $350 for supplies: paint, rollers and tape. But they only spent about $100, because so many people donated items for the bathrooms revitalization project.

Much of the PTA’s funds came from the organization’s spring benefit concert held in late April. It was organized to raise awareness of overcrowding at Johnnycake Elementary and what parents call a deteriorating school facility.

Smith said she thinks Johnnycake has been “overlooked,” by Baltimore County Public Schools and the county, especially with the construction of a replacement building for Chadwick Elementary School in Windsor Mill to be completed in fall 2020. Chadwick Elementary was reported in May to be over capacity by 241.

“With Chadwick getting a new school and us still getting nothing, I think it speaks volumes,” said Smith, who has two children attending Johnnycake Elementary. “It’s a safety issue, it’s a weather issue … in the portables, there’s no sinks, there’s no bathrooms.”

Johnnycake Elementary School was reported in May to be over capacity by 168. The county’s capital budget, released in April this year, includes nearly $1 million for Johnnycake Elementary to get a new roof.

Chadwick Elementary School was at first supposed to have a replacement school funded in fiscal year 2020, according to Baltimore County.

In April 2017, however, the late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz moved money into the county’s 2018 fiscal year capital budget to accelerate construction of four elementary schools in the county, including Chadwick.

County Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents District 1 on the County Council, said part of the reason that Chadwick Elementary is slated for a replacement school is because of overcrowding and building a new school would help alleviate some of that pressure as a new, larger school with a proposed capacity of 735 students could absorb students from other crowded schools, like Johnnycake.

According to a 2014 facilities assessment, Chadwick Elementary School was projected to be at 137 percent capacity by 2022 if nothing was done. Chadwick was 241 students over-capacity during the latest school year.

Quirk has said he’d love to be able to build new schools everywhere there is an issue, but that the county’s capital budget is “constrained.”

“Schools are really, really expensive,” Quirk said. “We’re trying to stretch every dollar we can and get the maximum impact on it.”

A school system official said numbers for the 2018-2019 school year would not be available until classes begin in September, but in the 2017-2018 school year, Johnnycake Elementary had 727 enrolled students.

Johnnycake’s state-rated capacity is 559 students, meaning it was 168 students over capacity.

The school also had six relocatable, or portable, classrooms located outside the main building. This year, the school has two more relocatable classrooms, according to the school system, and members of the PTA have said they are not pleased.

When the new Chadwick Elementary opens, students across the entire region of elementaries — including Chadwick, Johnnycake, Dogwood and Featherbed Lane, could be redistricted to lessen the burden of overcrowding.

When the potential redistricting was introduced to PTA members at Johnnycake’s spring benefit concert, parents said they were frustrated to hear the plans, because their students liked the school community and teachers, and said families should not have to hope to get redistricted to go to a better school.

Quirk said he thinks the new Chadwick school will help with overcrowding issues, but said getting more money to “revitalize and renovate” Johnnycake Elementary School is on his “priority list.”

More ideas and projects

Among the volunteers was Matt Gresick who has two children attending Westchester Elementary School in Catonsville, and is a candidate for the county school board.

He said the community of parents and teachers at Johnnycake Elementary School “know their challenges, and they’re doing their best to beat them.”

Parents at Johnnycake say they have more ideas and projects planned to improve conditions in the school.

Ross said, for example, they want to “brighten up the cafeteria,” perhaps with a painted mural.

They’ve also set up a GoFundMe Campaign, with a $10,000 goal. The campaign, which as of Monday, July 30, had not received any donations, can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/johnnycake-elementary-pta.

Money from the fundraisers would go toward field trips, educational assemblies and other school programs, according to its organizers.

“What is asked of the PTA, and the things we support for Johnnycake is astronomical,” Smith said. “We pour so much into the school and we’re in everything that’s going on … we’re hoping with the GoFundMe, because of social media, and because we all have the ability to share it, that it would reach enough people that we don’t have to tell teachers ‘no, we can’t help with this.’ ”

cboteler@baltsun.com

twitter.com/codyboteler

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