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Board approves school closings

The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore school board voted last night on the latest round of school closings and an arbitrator's ruling on teacher planning time, an issue that sparked a dispute between the Baltimore Teachers Union and schools chief Andres Alonso.

The board acted on several school closures and reconfigurations, including officially closing this summer four middle schools that were being phased out: Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy and Robert Poole, Thurgood Marshall and Harlem Park middle schools.

Nine Baltimore elementary schools that were scheduled to add grades six through eight will halt or postpone that expansion. And three other schools that had started to add the middle grades will revert to elementary grades.

The dispute over planning time came after Alonso and the board pushed for principals to be able to order teachers to spend 45 minutes a week on group planning. The union wants the system to pay teachers for that time.

The board voted 8-0 to ratify the union's contract, including the provisions the arbitrator recommended last month. The arbitrator's ruling gave the system the authority to mandate group planning in its secondary schools, where teachers have five planning periods a week. In elementary schools, the arbitrator said, teachers must be given four weekly planning periods if group planning is to be mandated. Most elementaries already give their teachers that time.

Three years ago, the board moved to significantly reduce its operating space to cope with declining enrollment and deteriorating buildings. It is in the process of closing several of the city's failing middle schools while expanding elementary schools to include sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

But officials have found that some elementary schools are overcrowded and do not have the capacity for older students. Meanwhile, many of the city's middle and high schools have too few students.

The nine elementary schools that will delay expansion are James McHenry, Charles Carroll Barrister, Samuel F.B. Morse, Sarah M. Roach, Lyndhurst, Mary Rodman, Belmont, Matthew Henson and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. West Baltimore and Diggs-Johnson middle schools, previously designated for closure, will stay open at least one more year.

The three schools that will revert to elementaries, sending older children elsewhere, are William Paca, Gilmor and Furman Templeton. Gilmor and Templeton are run by Edison Schools, a for-profit management company.

Southeast Middle, which was to close this year, will stay open one more year. The Thomas G. Hayes Elementary building, Hamilton Middle, Lombard Middle and Canton Middle are on track to close in 2009.

In addition, Benjamin Franklin Middle will convert into a high school. It will not admit a new sixth-grade class, but current eighth-graders will be able to stay for ninth grade. Two elementary schools, Maree G. Farring and Curtis Bay, will begin expansion to elementary/middle schools by keeping the students who would have gone on to Franklin.

Twelve elementary schools that have added sixth-grade classes will continue their expansion by adding seventh grade next year. Seventeen elementary schools that have added sixth and seventh grades will add eighth grade.

In October 2005, the school board committed to reducing the system's operating space by 15 percent over three years. By the time all of the schools being phased out are closed, the system will have reduced space by 11.6 percent, officials said.

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