Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, who represents the fifth district, speaks at the Board of Education of Baltimore County on Tuesday, May 7. Marks spoke in favor of a boundary study to reduce crowding in middle schools in the northeast area of the county.
Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, who represents the fifth district, speaks at the Board of Education of Baltimore County on Tuesday, May 7. Marks spoke in favor of a boundary study to reduce crowding in middle schools in the northeast area of the county. (Cody Boteler / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The Baltimore County Board of Education voted Tuesday to postpone an order to start a formal boundary study for middle schools in the northeastern part of the county, focused on Perry Hall Middle, which is about 250 students over capacity.

“We are in a predicament,” Board Chair Kathleen Causey said.

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Citing a lack of needed school construction funding, Vice Chair Julie Henn initially proposed Tuesday night conducting the boundary study to relieve some of the crowding at Perry Hall.

The board decided to postpone that vote and instead directed school system staff to create a proposal offering multiple options to ease the capacity problem.

Russel Brown, the school system’s chief accountability officer, said a boundary study for the area would be burdensome for families. He said he favored letting staff develop and present multiple options to the board, rather than moving directly into a boundary study, which takes about 15 months.

Brown said he would be able to present options to the board during its June meeting.

Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski has said there is no “plan B,” when it comes to constructing new schools in the county, and projects will have to be delayed because the state legislature did not approve a bill that would provide billions to counties for such projects.

Olszewski’s budget proposal includes $15 million in planning and design funds for Lansdowne High School, in southwestern Baltimore County, but no money for other new school construction projects, much to the chagrin of parents in the northeast part of the county who say their students must deal with crowded schools.

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Perry Hall Middle School, according to data published by the school system, was over capacity by about 250 students; Parkville Middle was over by about 90 students and Pine Grove Middle was under capacity by about 275 students in the 2018-2019 school year.

Verletta White, the interim superintendent, said the real solution for Perry Hall Middle School would be constructing a new middle school in the region, but she acknowledged that will take some time.

“We share the board’s sense of urgency to relieve the overcapacity,” White said.

County Councilman David Marks, a Republican who represents the northeast area of the county, said Perry Hall Middle was his chief concern, but he hopes the board will look at school crowding more “comprehensively” if necessary.

“I know it’s a controversial subject, I just ask for your full consideration,” Marks said.

Joe Norman, who has three elementary-aged students slated to go to Perry Hall Middle School in a couple of years, said he supports a boundary study.

The process of changing school boundaries would be faster than securing funds for planning and then constructing a new school. Norman said he especially wants to see boundary changes to shrink class sizes since the state legislature did not finalize its school construction spending bill.

“It’s just too big a school,” Norman said. “Redistricting would benefit everyone. It’s something that can provide immediate relief.”

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Not all at Tuesday’s board meeting were in favor of the discussion, however. Laura Showalter, a parent of two students who are currently slated to go to Perry Hall Middle beginning next year, said a boundary change would come with “very serious implications.”

She pointed out that middle schools surrounding Perry Hall did not score as high on the Maryland State Department of Education’s star rating system.

Pine Grove Middle, Parkville Middle, Golden Ring Middle and Middle River Middle, all schools with boundaries adjoining Perry Hall Middle, did in fact score lower on overall points and academic achievement than Perry Hall.

Cockeysville Middle, which shares a boundary with Perry Hall Middle, but which is physically much farther from Perry Hall than the others, scored in the same range as Perry Hall.

Showalter said moving students from Perry Hall to other schools would be disruptive.

“Our students deserve consistency,” Showalter said.

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