Portable classrooms should be mothballed in Harford [Editorial]

The time has come for Harford County Public Schools to eliminate the portable classrooms that had become emblematic of overcrowding that plagued the local system for many years.

When portable classroom use was at its peak, there were 95 across Harford County; at Southampton Middle School they were so prominent that they obscured the view of the school from the road.

Now relatively few are in use as classroom space, but the school system continues to allow 73 of the buildings to be used at 20 of the county's 54 school buildings.

The only reasonable use of the portable classroom buildings is at Magnolia Middle School in Joppa, where a major construction project is in process.

Elsewhere in the school system, portables are used for storage and administrative space.

Given that the school system has substantial excess capacity - in the thousands of desks systemwide - it's hard to justify using the portable classrooms for storage. Moreover, it is practically impossible to justify using them as teaching spaces, except in instances like Magnolia where construction issues are at play.

It is understandable that the school system would have a desire not to spend money on getting rid of the portable classrooms. It turns out the term sometimes used to refer to them - relocatable classrooms - isn't a particularly accurate descriptor, since they're fairly expensive to relocate. The school system has even tried giving them away, asking only that the taker be willing to pay for moving them, but has had no takers.

This situation also speaks to the relative usefulness of portable classrooms. If giving them away isn't a viable option, how useful can they be?

The school system has been allocated money from the county to mothball or get rid of the portable classrooms, but the school system has chosen, for better or for worse, to spend the money on something else.

As long as the school system maintains these portable classrooms as options for absorbing influxes of students in certain schools, there will continue to be a convenient way to avoid changing school enrollment areas, even as the school system has plenty of extra capacity.

It may not be the intention of the school system to hold this space in reserve, but it certainly has resisted adjusting districts even as it has seen enrollment drop. Harford County continues to have public schools operating at or in excess of rated capacity numbers, even as it has schools that operate well below rated capacity.

If portable classrooms continue to be used, it is unlikely the school system ever will be forced to make the best use of its bricks and mortar classroom space.

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