School crowding on agenda today

The Baltimore Sun

Some Towson-area parents who want a school built to ease crowding in their children's classrooms are buoyed by support from legislators and an indication that state education officials are not opposed to their plans.

The developments came after a county official said state funding was highly unlikely for the project, which would involve building a special-education facility in Mays Chapel.

Several Baltimore County legislators - including state Sen. James Brochin, a Democrat who represents the Towson area - are scheduled to meet today with county schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston to discuss solutions. A representative for County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who also was invited to the meeting, may attend, said a spokeswoman for Del. Susan Aumann, who helped organize the meeting.

"These parents who pay taxes deserve not to have a school where the class sizes are too big," Brochin said. "I don't think anything that [the parents] are asking for is unreasonable."

Meanwhile, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has indicated she supports, with some conditions, building a special-education facility.

The new site would allow school officials to move everyone from Ridge Ruxton in Towson - which has 123 special-education students and 90 staff members - and convert the school into an elementary.

In a Jan. 23 letter to Brochin, Grasmick wrote that building a stand-alone special-education school - which is discouraged because educators prefer integrating special-education students into regular schools - is acceptable only if it includes an early-childhood program and limits enrollment to children already attending Ridge Ruxton.

But in an e-mail sent Monday to constituents, Smith said the system does not need an early-childhood center in Mays Chapel and budgetary constraints make it "fiscally irresponsible not to investigate every option available."

Cathi Forbes, chairwoman of Towson Families United and a parent of a Rodgers Forge kindergartner, said she hopes a solution comes soon to ease crowding in Towson's elementary schools.

"There's no way our schools can keep going the way they are," she said.

As of Sept. 30, Rodgers Forge, with a capacity of 408 students, had 625, according to system records. Stoneleigh, with a capacity of 499 children, had 623; Hampton, with a capacity of 307 students, had 377; and Riderwood, built for 501 students, had 513.

School officials during the fall floated the idea of building a school in Mays Chapel - a community along West Padonia Road near Interstate 83 in Timonium - because it is centrally located and would minimize travel time for most Ridge Ruxton students. But county officials have asserted that the proposal was shelved because state education officials advise against building special-education schools.

The school system owns half of the 20-acre parcel, and the county Recreation and Parks Department owns half. A park sits on the system's portion.

Some Mays Chapel residents have said they are worried about increased traffic from school buses and staff members. Angelo DelNegro, a Timonium resident who heads the Save Mays Chapel committee, said the group remains opposed to the proposal.

"We still feel it's inappropriate to move a school that doesn't need to be moved and take a park that shouldn't be taken," he said.

Laura Mullen, a Timonium resident whose 18-year-old daughter has attended Ridge Ruxton since 1995, said most parents at the special-education school would rather not move their children.

Mullen, who also is Ruxton's PTA president, said parents are worried about having their children, many of whom are "medically fragile," too far from area hospitals and in classes with regular-education children. But, Mullen said, parents likely will be less apprehensive if a new site includes upgrades, such as larger classrooms and hallways to accommodate medical equipment.

"Transitioning our children is a very big thing," she said. "I don't have a problem staying and I don't have a problem moving, as long as it's a facility that meets our children's needs."

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