Baltimore school officials are considering closing 12 schools and restructuring dozens of others, steps that could lead to a sweeping reorganization of the city school system.
Word of the proposed closings - which would be effective at the end of this school year - was met yesterday with skepticism from some parents and city lawmakers, even as school officials began preparing an extensive public relations campaign to head off controversy.
"I am hoping that when the pain subsides, and we take care of closures and consolidations, that we will end up with better buildings and better schools," said Carmen V. Russo, chief executive officer of the city's 182 schools.
"I think we'll be a better school system."
School officials have long been criticized for having too many school buildings that are expensive to maintain. The de- bate that will unfold over the next six months will mark the system's first attempt in more than a decade to address an enrollment that has declined over 30 years from close to 200,000 to 101,000 today.
Consolidating its school population would not only save the system money, but likely would mean millions in new school construction funds from the state - and possibly three new schools.
"If the facts are there to back it up, I think it is something we should live with," said Melvin L. Stukes, Southwest Baltimore city councilman and chairman of the council's Education and Human Resources Committee.
But he said school officials will have to make their case before moving ahead.
Said City Council President Sheila Dixon: "This is going to be a pretty comprehensive process to go through. ... There is going to be work for all of us."
Russo said she would not endorse the plan until she heard from the communities affected.
Five of the 12 schools recommended for closure are in West Baltimore, five are in East Baltimore and two are in South Baltimore. Seven are on the state's list of failing schools.
The schools are: Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary (#11); Park Heights Elementary (#14); Madison Square Elementary (#26); Mildred Monroe Elementary (#32); Malcolm X Primary (#38); Edgewood Elementary (#67); Luther Craven Mitchell Primary (#135); Charles Carroll of Carrollton (#139); Arundel Elementary (#164); Lafayette Elementary (#202); Frankford Intermediate (#216) and Harbor View Elementary (#304).
Eutaw-Marshburn would be closed only if Booker T. Washington Middle is converted to a facility serving prekindergarten through the eighth grade.
Harbor View Elementary, a special education school whose pupils have already been absorbed into a nearby elementary, would be considered an "administrative" closure only.
"This will allow us to restructure our system along a more efficient and effective line," J. Tyson Tildon, school board chairman, said yesterday.
Four other schools - Steuart Hill Elementary (#4), General Wolfe Elementary (#23), Franklin Square Elementary (#95) and Winston Middle (#209) - have also been recommended for closure, but only if two new schools are built and several others are reconfigured.
The school board is expected to be presented tonight with the recommended list of closings, which grew out of a systemwide facility utilization study prepared by 3D/International, an outside consultant.
The report contains dozens of other suggestions for reconfiguring schools. Some elementaries could be converted to prekindergarten through eighth grade.
One middle school could become a high school. Another elementary could become a middle school.
Southern High School could be converted from a zoned high school into the Digital Harbor Technology Academy, which would attract students from around the city. If the plan is approved, next year's ninth-grade class would be transferred to other zoned high schools: Southwestern, Walbrook, Frederick Douglass and Lake Clifton/Eastern.
The school system is planning several public forums on the recommendations. The nine-member school board will vote on them in March or April.
City Council members, who were briefed yesterday even before the schools' principals, said they expected that the process of closing schools would be difficult.
Stukes said he had specific concerns because two of the schools are in the Cherry Hill neighborhood, which he represents.
"Whatever we do, it has to be in the best interests of our students," said Councilwoman Lisa Stancil, who also sits on the Education Committee.
But Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat, said the process should have begun years ago.
The city's 182 schools have a capacity of more than 131,000 students, according to state statistics, but only about 101,500 are enrolled. By contrast, Baltimore County, which has about 107,000 students, has 161 schools.
"I feel good that in the final analysis it will benefit the children," said McFadden. "It is going to be tough, but it is doable."
Sam Stringfield, a school board member, said resources now going to schools recommended for closure can be redirected throughout the rest of the system.
"We have an obligation to the taxpayers to do what's most efficient and most effective," he said. "We have got to be responsible stewards."
If the recommendations are approved, it would be the first large number of simultaneous school closings in several decades.
In 1993, the system proposed closing nine schools - including Luther Craven Mitchell and Malcolm X - but backed down after community protests and closed only two small primaries.
The last two city schools to be closed were George Street Elementary in 1998 and Lexington Terrace Elementary/Middle two years before that. Both were closed because nearby housing projects were torn down.
No matter the rationale, the proposed closings are expected to anger many parents and community groups.
Nyshia Peace sends her 4-year-old daughter, Nyteria Smith, to prekindergarten at Arundel Elementary and planned to transfer her 5-year-old there until she heard the news that it might be closed.
Peace said that when Nyteria was in Head Start last year she had problems at the school and never wanted to go.
"Now she wakes me up every morning and wants to go," Peace said. "It's a good school. I don't think it should close."
Arundel Assistant Principal Brenda Hubbard said parents will be very upset when they find out.
"Parents here are very active," Hubbard said. "They will be quite vocal about it."
A community leader near Madison Square Elementary said she would keep an open mind about the plan but said school officials needed to address several issues.
"We are concerned about quality of education, the size of classrooms and transportation," said Constance Maddox, president of the Madison East End Improvement Association.
Maddox said she had the impression that Madison Square was doing a "pretty good" job of teaching and wondered whether the three schools to which Madison Square's students could be shifted had enough room for them.
Sun staff writers Mike Bowler, Stephanie Desmond, Allison Klein, Gerard Shields, Eric Siegel and Laurie Willis contributed to this article.
Proposed closures Moved to
1. Park Heights #14 #223
2. Malcolm X #38 #254
3. Edgewood #67 #21 #64 #87 #217
4. Lafayette #202 #138 #144 #145/ 5. Eutaw -Marshburn #11 #130
6. Arundel #164 #159 #163
7. Madison Square #26 #16 #250 #102
8. C.C. Carrollton #139 #8 #57
9. Harbor View #304 #124
10. Luther Mitchell #135 #101
11. Mildred Monroe #32 #39 #16
12. Frankford #216 #105
SOURCE: Baltimore City Schools