Parents at five Towson schools were informed Wednesday of an input meeting that school officials say will begin the process of dealing with the area's crowded elementary schools.
The meeting, which a school system spokesman called an "input work session" on the area's overcrowding issues, will be held on Thursday, May 16 at 5:30 p.m. at Carver Center for Arts and Technology. Parents at West Towson, Ridge Ruxton, Stoneleigh, Rodgers Forge and Hampton were invited, though community leaders urged anyone with a stake in the area schools to attend.
"When folks don't have a chance to have input, that's when they get frustrated." Baltimore County Public Schools Chief Communications Officer Mychael Dickerson said. "My understanding is, we'll give them basic data and info and tell them, 'Here are some ideas, but you're not married to these ideas. The reason we're not calling it a feedback session is because it's not that. It's an input session."
Each principal sent his or her own letter to parents, but a form draft sent to each principal billed the meeting next Thursday as "the first step as central office staff works with various communities to plan long-term solutions across impacted parts of the county."
Schools in the York Road corridor are some of the county's most overcrowded, according to school system data, and the four Towson elementary schools included in the meeting are just one cluster of schools where BCPS is looking to alleviate overcrowding.
Rodgers Forge opened this school year with 447 students, 51 more than its state capacity of 396. West Towson, which was built in 2010 to alleviate overcrowding at Rodgers Forge, this year with 92 students over its capacity of 451 students.
Hampton and Stoneleigh will both have fully renovated schoolhouses next year. But even with 300 new added seats at Hampton, is projected to be near capacity next year. Stoneleigh will open with 200 new seats, but is projected to be over capacity next year.
By 2015, school system projections will put those schools 214 students over capacity, while 2018 projections put the four schools a total of 293 students over capacity.
Ridge Ruxton, a special education school, which shares a campus with West Towson, has a capacity of 115 students, though its enrollment fluctuates. West Towson currently uses four classrooms in Ridge Ruxton, but parents were told last year that the rest of Ridge Ruxton would not be impacted to ease overcrowding at West Towson.
Dickerson said a separate meeting will be held for the northern cluster of York Road schools, which are also overcrowded.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz included in his 2014 budget the funds for a 700-seat elementary in Mays Chapel which will be completed in time for the 2014-15 school year. Funds were also appropriated for another 700 additional elementary school seats in the York Road corridor although he did not name a specific location.
Dickerson said the meeting would be unlike previous school system meetings in that attendees will not be given two minutes to speak at a microphone. Instead, he said they'll be given an information packet, sent to work in small groups, and return to the large group for to report what they discussed.
"This is just the first step of the process," he said.
Other chances to give input
Cathi Forbes, founder and chairperson of Towson Families United, which advocates for Towson schools, acknowledged that May is a busy time of year for parents but she believes the community will turn out to be heard on the issue.
When word of the meeting began to filter through the community late last week, parents at Hampton and West Towson were concerned about a conflict between the schools' spring concerts that night. West Towson has rescheduled its concert date, but Hampton was unable to reschedule its performance.
On Monday, as word of the meeting trickled out, Councilman David Marks, Councilman Todd Huff and Councilwoman Vicki Almond, wrote the school system to request both additional information on the overcrowding plans and a different time for the meeting.
The council is scheduled to deliberate the county budget on Thursday, May 16, but Marks said the area council members want to be included in the discussions. Dickerson said parents who won't be able to attend the May 16 meeting will be able to submit input through their child's elementary school.
The meeting will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology, 938 York Road in Towson.