Parents praise 10-year plan to modernize city schools

Mohan Singh sat in the front row of the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute auditorium Wednesday, helping to hold a long sign that said, "We want a new T.J."

T.J. stood for Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore's Hunting Ridge neighborhood, and Mohan was among 200 people who attended the city school board's first public forum to comment on a proposed 10-year plan to renovate, rebuild, reduce or close public schools citywide.

A contingent of parents at the school came to support the recommended renovation, or replacement with an addition, of Thomas Jefferson in year three of the plan.

Parents say the historic school built in 1925 is lovely to look at, but is showing its age, with heating and air conditioning problems, among other issues.

"It's kind of grungy," said Singh, father of a Thomas Jefferson kindergartner, and a speech and language specialist for the Baltimore County public schools.

Most speakers generally praised the plan as visionary and long overdue, although some lobbied the school board to leave alone schools that were slated to be reduced in size or closed, and to move others up to earlier years in the 10-year schedule.

Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary, for example, has a dynamic new principal and more parental involvement, but also water fountains that don't work and classrooms that swelter in summer, said parent volunteer Zaire Boyd, president of the Pedestal Gardens Community Association.

Eutaw-Marshburn would be replaced or renovated, but also possibly reduced in size, in year 3 of the plan.

Karen DeCamp, representing the Greater Homewood Community Corp., based in Charles Village, said the $2.4 billion plan is a much-needed way to address the school system's aging buildings and infrastructure holistically, rather than piecemeal.

"We need a big plan," DeCamp said. "We need an innovative way to fund it. And we need the public will to get it done."

The school system hopes to modernize its schools, but also downsize from 163 to 137 campuses to reflect a declining enrollment and reduce projected capacity from 121,300 students now to about 105,000 students in 10 years, school officials said.

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