While state and county education officials may have hit a philosophical stone wall on the need for a new middle school in South Carroll, area parents are forging ahead.
"If the state won't fund construction, the county will have to find other [revenue] sources," said Bud Herndon, PTA president at Sykesville Middle School.
Groups from the area's four elementary feeder schools met recently with the middle school's PTA board to plan a strategy for their children's future in spacious facilities.
"We are in the planning stages now, but we want to inform and involve the public and our officials in this process," said Mr. Herndon.
With the elementaries all at or over capacity, crowding in the middle school can only continue.
"We can't wait any longer," said Mr. Herndon, whose son is in eighth grade at the school. "Something has to be done, and we are trying to find that something."
Sykesville, the only school for children in grades six through eight in the area, is 103 students above capacity this year. In September, the school will be over capacity by more than 200. The county classifies the building, remodeled from a high school into a middle school in 1967, "severely inadequate."
"We are always concerned with overcrowding," said Donald Pyles, Sykesville's principal. "Overcrowding can make a school less effective.
"The staffing is up to the number of students, and our test scores are among the highest in the county," he said. "We have a wonderful school with wonderful kids, but when do we hit critical mass?"
Every child has a classroom, he said, but eight of those rooms are now in portables. At least two portables will be added in September. This will further tax the school's facilities, including the cafeteria, music and art rooms.
"As far as the state is concerned, no problem exists," Mr. Pyles said.
Mr. Herndon said that if the state won't help, the county has to get its own construction ball rolling.
"The state has been trying to get out of the school construction business for five years," he said. "Our position is: This is the county's responsibility. We must control our own educational system."
Education has room to grow in South Carroll. On Oklahoma Road, just north of Liberty Road, the county has set aside a 20-acre site for a new, $11 million middle school. The state, which would finance 65 percent of the construction costs, denied planning approval for the project for the third time last year.
State planners don't feel Carroll's enrollment projections merit another school yet, said Vernon Smith, director of school support services in Carroll.
"We know those numbers are borderline," he said. "We believe the numbers are going to come fast and furiously."
The county will repeat its request in June and may get approval to begin planning in January 1994. Under optimum conditions, the new school could open in September 1997. Too long, said Mr. Herndon.
"It doesn't take four years to plan and construct a school," he said. "There are ways to accomplish this in a more timely fashion. We may have to move away from normal procedure."
Without the Oklahoma Road school, in 1997 Sykesville's capacity could be stretched beyond its limits -- with 1,170 children, 300 over capacity.
"Of the seven middle schools in the county, Sykesville is the most overcrowded, when we look at capacity," said Kathleen Sanner, assistant in school facilities.
"Oklahoma Road will be our number-one request again this year. If the state only gives us one request, we are asking to give us this."
While Sykesville presents the most immediate problem, three other county middle schools are also facing crowding in the next few years.
"West Middle will be rated inadequate next year," said Ms. Sanner. "North Carroll will be in trouble soon, and East Middle has only a few years left before it is over capacity."
The crowding issue will be "germane to the whole county," Mr. Pyles said.
"Until the emphasis in the community and with the financial people becomes education, we will have to deal with overcrowding," he said. "Children have no choice, but we do."
Many South Carroll parents said they are unwilling to wait for the state to give its approval to new construction.
They hear terms like "unlimited acreage" and "no cap on numbers of portables" and alarm bells go off.
"The county doesn't seem to be doing anything but watch the school enrollment get bigger," said Laura Rhodes, president of a neighborhood development association. "They build new elementary schools but don't plan for when these children get older."
Ms. Sanner said the South Carroll area continues to grow and several new housing developments are nearing completion. "We would like to have two middle schools with room to grow," she said.
"The state insists the new school be filled within one year of opening."
Mr. Herndon said he is planning several other meetings with elementary PTA boards. He hopes to organize a general meeting for parents and county and state officials later this spring.
"Sykesville is doing a superior job under the circumstances," he said. "We want to attack its overcrowding problems."
MIDDLE SCHOOL ENROLLMENTS
.. .. .. .. .. .. ... ....Current.. .. .. .1993-'94.. .. ..*1997-'98
School.. .. .. Capacity .enrollment.. .. ..enrollment.. ..enrollment
Mount Airy.. .. .708.. .. ..630.. .. .. .. .. .637.. ... .. ..634
New Windsor.. ...495.. .. ..445.. .. .. .. .. .464.. .. .. .. 521
North Carroll.. .933.. .. ..928.. .. .. .. .. .947.. .. .. .1,042
Northwest**.. ...990.. .. ..452.. .. .. .. .. .484.. .. . .. .496
Sykesville.. .. .878.. .. ..981.. .. .. .. ..1,084.. .. .. .1,170
Westminster East 928.. .. ..800.. .. .. .. ....870.. .. .. .. 978
Westminster West 1,145.. ..1,102.. .. .. .. ..1,169.. .. .. 1,273
* Projected enrollments
** Excess space here is used as Taneytown Elementary annex