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Schools struggle with Kmart surge When ads run, enrollment soars


Attention Kmart shoppers: Don't wait until the back-to-school ad runs in your newspaper before registering your children for school.

That kind of last-minute action plays havoc with administrators who are trying to make sure they have enough teachers and aides in the right places, said Dorothy Mangle, director of elementary education for Carroll County schools.

Every August, without fail, principals report a surge in school enrollment the week after Kmart runs its back-to-school newspaper insert, she said.

The ad appeared Sunday.

At Westminster Elementary, 11 students enrolled in the next three days, Mrs. Mangle said. Fourteen students had enrolled between June and Sunday.

At Friendship Valley Elementary, 12 students enrolled from Monday to Wednesday, Mrs. Mangle said. Other schools haven't reported their figures yet, but she said she expects to see more of the same, as usual.

"I call it the Kmart ad syndrome," she said. "I have even talked to Kmart about it."

Mrs. Mangle said she half-jokingly asked the local store if it could run its ad earlier in the summer. Carroll County's growing population makes the problem more acute than in more stable areas, she said.

Things are a little worse this year, with the last-minute enrollment problem compounded by fluctuations in kindergarten enrollment, Mrs. Mangle said.

One factor affecting that has been the redistricting of a few day-care centers. Working parents may now enroll their children in the school nearest their day care. Even parents who enrolled their kindergartners in April, when they were supposed to, are changing schools to have their children closer to their before- and after-school care.

For example, William Winchester Elementary School has had four kindergarten classrooms in the recent past. Now it has barely enough children for three, Mrs. Mangle said.

Principal Patricia Dorsey said two day care centers that used to be in her school's district now would feed Friendship Valley or Robert Moton schools. Meanwhile, kindergarten enrollment at Friendship Valley caused the school to add a teacher, for five classrooms with an average class size of 25 students.

By yesterday, seven schools had enrollment averaging more than 26.5 students for kindergarten, Mrs. Mangle said. They are Eldersburg, Freedom, Manchester, Mechanicsville, Mount Airy, Westminster and Winfield elementary schools.

As more last-minute enrollees arrive, some schools will have to add a teacher and classroom, Mrs. Mangle said. But the budget allows for only three more teacher positions, and Mrs. Mangle said she can't be sure where those teachers will be needed until the first day of school. Some parents wait until then to enroll their youngsters.

"The end of this week or the beginning of next week, I'm going to call my best shot and place two [teachers], then hold out until September," she said.

That means that after school starts she may add one kindergarten teacher at one of the seven schools to reduce class sizes, even though it will mean some kindergartners will get a different teacher the second week. Some will also have to change from a morning session to an afternoon session.

For grades one through five, Mrs. Mangle said, she may suggest some schools uses combination classrooms if they don't have quite enough students to justify adding a whole classroom for each grade.

Her plea to any parents to whom this sounds disagreeable: "Please enroll your children early."

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