Schools to study Towson crowding

The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore County School Board voted unanimously last night to conduct a study on alleviating crowding at Towson-area elementary schools that could include adding onto Ridge Ruxton School.

The board also approved a 3 percent pay raise for Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, drawing catcalls from teachers.

Addressing the crowding question, board President JoAnn C. Murphy said, "The board's intent is to look at the broadest possibilities for the children. ... We want to be data-driven. If we fail to seek data in the broadest way, then we are failing the children."

But despite the call for a feasibility study by an outside architectural firm, board member Joseph J. Pallozzi said that most board members now do not favor an addition to Ridge Ruxton School, a special-education facility on Charles Street in Towson that serves about 125 students.

A 400-seat addition to the school has been proposed to help ease overcrowding at Rodgers Forge, Stoneleigh, Hampton and Riderwood elementaries. Some parents, however, say a new elementary school is needed, and that adding students to Ridge Ruxton could jeopardize the "medically fragile" children there.

Board member Meg O'Hare said that while she is in favor of the study, she has never been in favor of adding on to Ridge Ruxton.

Parents opposed to adding onto Ridge Ruxton were skeptical of the study.

"I don't know what is going to come from this," Cathi Forbes, chairwoman of Towson Families United and mother of a Rodgers Forge kindergartner, said after the vote.

At a previous school board meeting, members voted to postpone the plan to expand Ridge Ruxton after some board members said they felt pressured by county officials to support an addition there instead of seeking funds to build a new school.

County officials have denied suggestions that the county executive has pressured board members to take specific actions. They said the Ridge Ruxton expansion proposal, in conjunction with another plan to make smaller additions at schools along the York Road corridor, would add as many as 900 seats in the Towson area.

Towson Families United also opposes the Ridge Ruxton addition because the county cannot say whether there will be enough room on the property for an additional cafeteria, gymnasium, health suite and other common areas it says are necessary to serve the additional 400 students.

Some of the more than 50 teachers at the meeting last night jeered after the board approved a 3 percent pay raise for Hairston.

In February, school board members voted to extend Hairston's contract for an additional four-year term. Hairston has held the job since 2000.

John A. Hayden III was the only board member opposed to the pay increase, which is called for in Hairston's contract extension. Board member Donna Flynn was absent. Hairston had been earning $260,000 a year.

After the vote, teachers walked out of the meeting.

Last month, at the county's urging, the board adopted a budget without across-the-board pay raises for employees. Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, has said that without an across-the-board pay raise, more than 20 percent of the teachers will receive no increase and that an additional 20 percent will take a cut after paying more toward pension and health care expenses.

Bost said after last night's vote that teachers will continue to work to contract rules until April 15, in protest of the lack of raises.

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