Eight months after they began lobbying to keep their children in Reisterstown for middle school, about 50 parents and children from Cedarmere Elementary took their protest to the county seat yesterday -- picketing, marching and chanting "We want Ruppersberger!" in front of the county office building, and the television cameras.
Accompanied by children lugging signs, the parents demanded that the county add grades six, seven and eight to their elementary school so their children will not be sent to Randallstown's Deer Park Middle.
The protest is the latest eruption in a controversy involving crowded schools in the county's fast-growing northwest, a 7-year-old redistricting battle, accusations of racial separatism and a tug-of-war over school construction money.
Emotions got so heated at a recent school board meeting -- where parents blasted Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione and the board for incompetence -- that President Paul Cunningham shut off the microphone as a parent was speaking, after warning her that her time was up.
"They've known for seven years this is a problem, and the school board said they're still studying the issue," parent Linda Boteach said yesterday. "How long do they have to study the issue?"
Seven years ago, to relieve crowding at Franklin Middle, children from the Cedarmere and other elementary districts were moved from Franklin to Deer Park Middle in an ugly redistricting battle. Cedarmere parents said they wanted their children to remain in the Reisterstown/Owings Mills community; many said they moved there for the schools and community spirit.
Some leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and black parents, meanwhile, saw the opposition as an attempt to keep white children out of largely minority Deer Park Middle.
Last summer, as the county prepared plans for construction that included an addition at Franklin Middle, Cedarmere parents and community members began lobbying Marchione and politicians to move their children back to Franklin. Some said that housing values had slipped in the area as a result of the redistricting.
Marchione told parents that their children couldn't return to Franklin Middle -- because it was already crowded -- but said school officials would study the idea of a school for grades kindergarten through eight at Cedarmere.
School officials pursued the idea, not only for Cedarmere but also for Hernwood Elementary.
Hernwood parents, suspecting they were being used to further Cedarmere's agenda, opposed the conversion. Black community leaders, reminded of the fight seven years ago, saw the proposal as an attempt to spend county and state money to appease a small group of parents.
And County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said the project couldn't move forward because it wasn't part of the county's capital spending plan.
Michael Davis, Ruppersberger's spokesman, said yesterday that the county doesn't even have state money for its top-priority project in the area: an addition at Franklin Middle. Next in line is an addition at Deer Park Middle. Third on the list are major maintenance projects.
If money comes from the state to build an addition at Franklin Middle, there will be room in that school, and boundaries will be adjusted, he said.
In the short term, school officials are considering a plan to relieve crowding for next year by adding sixth grades at Cedarmere, Hernwood and Woodbridge elementaries and adding trailer classrooms at Deer Park Middle. Community hearings are scheduled at the schools next week.
But Cedarmere parents say they've waited long enough for relief; they've watched families in new developments send their children to Franklin Middle, while the Cedarmere families are shut out.
Pub Date: 2/28/97