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Seeking relief from school crowding


It has become like a mantra, the pleading of Howard County parents and students for relief from crowding; as monotonous to listeners as it is important to the speaker.

Last night's public hearing on Superintendent John R. O'Rourke's fiscal year 2001-2002 proposed capital budget was no different.

Speaker after speaker stepped up to the podium, facing the school board and its staff, and recounted the serious crowding situations that exist, or will soon exist, in any number of county schools - asking board members to put money in the capital budget to spread the students out.

Many of last night's speakers were representatives of schools in the county's northeast and western regions. They pointed to

crowded classrooms and hallways at Pointers Run elementary school, Glenwood Middle School, and Glenelg and River Hill high schools in the west, and bulging enrollments at Elkridge, Ilchester and Hollifield Station elementary schools and Patapsco Middle School in the east.

"Pointers Run Elementary is in a crisis," said Lesli Ancona, a parent and PTA member at one of the most crowded elementary schools in the county.

"Even after the completion of our second addition, we are 200 students over capacity, with more on the way. We have [gifted and talented] teachers without classrooms, 60 art students in a room designed for 30, and 42 new computers with no room to set up a computer lab," she said.

Sue Nass, a parent at Hollifield Station Elementary School, said the school is not only over capacity this year by 232 students, but more than double the 106-student excess school officials projected.

"Even with two temporary transportables on the school grounds, we are still bursting at the seams," Nass said, noting that the school's teachers are using all available space - including storage rooms - for instruction.

O'Rourke has recommended in his proposed $69 million capital budget for next fiscal year that about $4 million in planning money be included for a 12th high school in the district.

Many speakers praised O'Rourke for that decision and begged the board to support it, especially when the time comes to defend the new school to the County Council and county executive, who fund most of the school district's budget.

"While applauding the proposed funding for the construction of a 12th high school, I must also express our Concern that this proposal will get tied up in political haggling over the county's spending priorities," parent Frank Aquino said. "This can not be allowed to occur."

And at the same time, parents and some school administrators - such as River Hill High School Principal Scott Pfiefer - continued to ask for help until the county's 11th high school, Reservoir, is completed in 2002, and the proposed 12th high school is underway.

Glenelg High School PTA President Terry Chaconas said the 42-year-old school is in dire need of technology upgrades, including "two fully functioning computer rooms" instead of one and updated computers connected to the Internet.

"And the building needs to be wired for cable," she said.

Two students at River Hill made a heartfelt appeal for a part-time registrar to assist the one overwhelmed registrar who serves more than 1,500 students.

Last year, the registrar sent out more than 2,500 transcripts to colleges, each containing at least 10 pages, said Jessica Lee. An additional registrar would see to it, "that our transcripts will receive the appropriate attention," Aneesha Griffin said.

Many speakers warned that fights will escalate, suspensions will rise and the quality of learning will go down as long as so many numbers of students are squeezed into so few available spaces.

River Hill High School PTA member Mark Wilensky summed up some of the audience's crowding issues when he said to the school board: "We invite you to visit and walk the halls at River Hill between classes, but do it this year. Next year, there may not be room, and it may not be safe."

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