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Relief's on the way

The Baltimore Sun

Perseverance has paid off for Towson-area families who led the charge for a new school to solve a severe classroom overcrowding problem in their area. The Baltimore County school board also deserves credit for not relying solely on the county administration's solution to the problem. Its members pushed for an alternative that seems to satisfy the overcrowding concerns without uprooting a special-education program that also had fiercely loyal supporters. The result - a win-win for all, for now.

County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who has been harshly criticized for his proposed solution to the problem, is standing by his commitment to provide $18 million to help finance the new school on the site of the Ridge Ruxton school for the disabled.

The struggle for a new school, led by parents organized as Towson Families United, shows that with determination, strong arguments and a fact-filled Web site, citizens can fight City Hall, or in this case, the county equivalent.

The parents went on the offensive, using statistics on projected overcrowding to show why an addition to the Ridge Ruxton school - the proposal backed by Mr. Smith - was unacceptable. They joined forces with parents of disabled children who argued that an addition would put their medically fragile students at risk and potentially violate the law. Faced with the concerns of the two groups, the school board was determined to find a better solution. A consultant reviewed the Ridge Ruxton site and concluded that it was big enough to also hold a new 400-seat school.

But parents must realize that a new school alone won't resolve the overcrowding entirely. An addition may be needed later on, and they will have to appeal to the next county executive to pay for it. Parents of disabled children at Ridge Ruxton also must recognize that such facilities are being phased out as more innovative ways to integrate special-ed kids into schools are found.

But in the end, an organized, vocal and politically astute group of citizens showed that a good offense is the best defense.

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