Parents seek relief at Baltimore Co.'s most crowded school

Parents and teachers at Hampton Elementary School are asking Baltimore County officials to make an addition to the crowded building the highest priority for school construction dollars next year.

Dozens jammed the county school board meeting Tuesday night to demand relief for the system's most crowded school, which they said would be more than 80 percent over capacity next year. Superintendent Joe A. Hairston is expected to ask the school board to vote on the county's capital request on Jan. 11. A request will then go to County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz.

Built to hold 307 students, Hampton Elementary opened this year with more than 500. The fourth and fifth grades now are meeting in trailers; parents say the cafeteria and bathrooms are overtaxed.

PTA member Yara Cheikh, the mother of three children at the school, said projections to be released next week will show 50 more students cramming in next year. That would mean conditions similar to those at Rodgers Forge Elementary School last year.

Officials responded to the Rodgers Forge crowding by moving a grade to a nearby middle school while waiting for a new elementary school to be built.

Officials have long been aware of crowding at Hampton Elementary. They told parents last year that construction on an addition would begin in the summer of 2010.

But the county said last fall that there had been a miscommunication, and taxpayer approval would be needed for work on the $19 million addition to begin.

State officials, meanwhile, said they did not fund the addition because the county government decided to give higher priority to construction and renovation projects at county high schools. The county is building new facilities for the Carver Center for the Arts and Dundalk High School, and is in the midst of a $20 million renovation and addition at Milford Mill.

State officials invited the county to use its own tax dollars to build an addition at Hampton.

When Rodgers Forge Elementary, which was built to hold 396 students, reached an enrollment of 718, the county moved a grade to the adjoining Dumbarton Middle School.

West Towson Elementary School, which opened in August to handle the overcrowding from several Towson area schools, is nearly at capacity.

Cheikh said parents are concerned that there is no nearby school with room to accommodate the overflow from Hampton. They want to know what the county plans to do for the students, she said.

Hampton parents say they cannot understand why the school system did not plan earlier to avoid overcrowding at the Towson-area schools. Riderwood and Stoneleigh elementaries, also in the area, are also over capacity.

"The way they have handled the overcrowding shows how they value children," Cheikh said.

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